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Refugee Crisis: Commission Aims for Schengen’s Normal Functioning in 2016

Archive photo of Syrian and Afghan refugees paddling towards the Greek island of Lesvos. Photo © UNHCR/Ivor Prickett

Archive photo of Syrian and Afghan refugees paddling towards the Greek island of Lesvos. Photo © UNHCR/Ivor Prickett

“In 2016 we need to return to Schengen’s normal functioning”, European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said on Wednesday following the weekly meeting of the College of Commissioners which focused on the refugee crisis. The commissioners decided that the Schengen’s normal functioning must be a priority for 2016.

“To do that we must ensure that Member States do not feel the need to introduce or prolong internal border controls. The Commission will do everything that is necessary for this to happen”, Mr Timmermans said.

On his part, European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said that the Commission is already working hard to prepare a revision of the Dublin System, a permanent resettlement scheme and a comprehensive package on legal migration and integration.

Mr Timmermans underlined the need for unity in addressing the issue. “We can only get out of this crisis together. 2016 must see clear and tangible results in regaining control of irregular flows and of our borders, starting with the next weeks and months.”

In particular, the Commission this year will aim to make sure hotspots are fully operational and that people who arrive are properly registered and fingerprinted. “We must get the relocation scheme off the ground and return those who have no right to stay. We should also cooperate better with third countries to address root causes and stem the flow, as well as improve return and readmission”, Mr Timmermans concluded.

Archive photo of Syrian refugees being rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by crew of the Italian ship, Grecale. Photo © UNHCR / A. D'Amato

Photo © UNHCR / A. D’Amato

“We are at a crossroads in 2016”, Mr Avramopoulos stressed. “The decisions and actions we take together will define the future of our Union — because it is precisely what defines us as a Union that is at stake… We need to urgently deliver on hotspots, relocation, returns, European Border Guards and a normalisation of Schengen.”

According to the College of Commissioners, 2016 will be dedicated to delivering clear and tangible results and implementing last year’s agreed measures, but also continuing to shape the EU’s future policies.

As to what was decided in 2015, the European Union must step up efforts in 2016 in fields such as relocation and hotspots.

On relocation: Only 272 people have been relocated out of the 160,000 agreed in September by the Council. In order to deliver on relocation, both frontline Member States and Member States where persons in need should be relocated must quickly implement the two relocation decisions, notably by notifying and increasing places immediately available for relocation and receiving relocated persons;

On hotspots: Out of 5 hotspot areas identified in Greece, only 1 is fully operational (Lesvos). According to reports, the Deputy Minister of Migration Policy Yiannis Mouzalas has ensured that the remaining four (Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros) will be ready by the end of January. Out of the 6 hotspot areas identified in Italy, 2 are operational so far (Lampedusa and Trapani). Of the six first reception centers planned for Italy, so far operate both.

Archive photo of refugees arriving on the Greek island of Lesvos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey. Photo © UNHCR / I.Prickett

Archive photo of refugees arriving on the Greek island of Lesvos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey. Photo © UNHCR / I.Prickett

“Fully operational hotspots are necessary to carry out relocation”, the College said.

The College also noted that Europe needs to increase the rate of return of persons who do not have the right to stay there to their countries of origin, by implementing the Return Action Plan and moving forward on readmission agreements and negotiations.

On the European Border and Coast Guard, the College said that Parliament and Council need to rapidly conclude negotiations, as committed by the December European Council.

The College also discussed further initiatives needed in the context of the current crisis.

“The events of last year have shown that the Dublin System is unsustainable in its current form”, the College said.

As announced last September, the Commission will set out a reform of the Dublin System, with proposals due by March, as part of its work towards a single asylum system.

In regards to Greece, the European Commission announced on Wednesday that it was awarding the country 1.36 million euros in emergency funding for the purchase 90 fingerprinting devices.

According to the Commission, the 90 fingerprinting devices and workstations will be connected to the central EURODAC system to ensure the sharing of information, and will be installed at border crossing points throughout the country, including on the Eastern Aegean islands,” read the EC announcement on Wednesday.

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