In order to strengthen and give meaning to the external dimension of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), and to link resettlement to EU external and development action, the EU has, on several occasions, called for joint European responses to refugee displacement and protection needs. Additionally, within the AMIF funding mechanism, the European Commission has prioritised the resettlement of particular categories of refugees, and offers incentives to Member States so as to facilitate coordinated EU resettlement efforts and stimulate resettlement from RPP regions.
2008 Joint EU Action for refugees from Iraq
The most significant example of a joint EU response to a refugee crisis was the 2008 joint action for the resettlement of 10,000 refugees from Iraq. The action followed directly from the landmark Justice and Home Affairs Council Conclusions calling on Member States to resettle 10,000 refugees from Iraq. In 2009 alone, twelve Member States responded to this call by offering resettlement places for 5,100 refugees, bringing the total number of refugees resettled to Europe from Iraq in the period 2007-2009 to 8,400 persons.38 Therefore, while only six of the then twenty-seven Member States of the EU were involved in resettlement activities in 2007, by 2009, this number had doubled. As illustrated in the chart below, this included both Member States with established annual resettlement programmes - Denmark, Finland, France,39 Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and the UK - and those providing ad-hoc quotas specifically for Iraqi refugees, namely Belgium, France,40 Germany, Italy and Luxembourg. The largest single contribution was made by Germany, who received 2,501 Iraqi refugees. This action demonstrated, for the first time, that a coordinated European resettlement effort could be productive in terms of engaging Member States that had not yet participated in resettlement. The joint response also led directly to European countries offering resettlement not only to Iraqi nationals, but also to 1,285 Palestinians living in dire humanitarian conditions in Al-Tanf refugee camp on the Iraq-Syria border, permitting its closure in February 2010.
The Joint EU Resettlement Programme – Paving the Way for the Union Resettlement Programme
Inspired by the success of the joint action to resettle Iraqi refugees, in 2009, the European Commission published the ‘Communication on the establishment of a Joint EU Resettlement Programme’.42 The programme proposed in the Communication formulated the Commission’s aspirations for Europe to play a more substantial and strategically coordinated role in global resettlement, with three specific goals:
- increasing the humanitarian impact of the EU by ensuring that it gives greater and better targeted support to the international protection of refugees through resettlement;
- enhancing the strategic use of resettlement by promoting joint priorities to guide Member State resettlement activities; and
- better streamlining the EU’s resettlement efforts so as to ensure the benefits are delivered in the most cost-effective manner possible.
Together with the Communication, the European Commission issued a proposal to amend the ERF.44 The proposed amendment introduced a system of financial support linked to common, annually set EU resettlement priorities designed to maximise the strategic impact of resettlement through better targeting of those in greatest need.
Although rich in aspiration, the proposed joint programme maintained that Member State engagement in resettlement is entirely voluntary; did not propose or set numerical targets for a European resettlement quota; and did not include operational mechanisms to coordinate Member State resettlement efforts. In paractical terms, the programme constituted a political framework and an amendment to the resettlement funding rules in the ERF Decision. The proposal to set annual common EU resettlement priorities led to a disagreement between the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament concerning the procedure by which the priorities would be established. In March 2012, after more than two years of negotiations between the Commission, the Parliament (led by LIBE47 MEP and Rapporteur Rui Tavares) and the Council, a compromise text was adopted that amended the Council ERF Decision,49 establishing common EU resettlement priorities for 2013 and setting new rules for the financial support that Member States would receive for resettlement activities via the ERF.
Building on these foundations established by the Joint EU Resettlement Programme, the AMIF similarly provides resettlement financing under the Union Resettlement Programme. More specifically, EUR 360 million has been designated for resettlement, relocation and other Specific Actions for the period 2014-2020. As outlined previously, a lump sum of €6,000 is provided per resettled person, and €10,000 for each person resettled according to the common Union resettlement priorities and for other vulnerable categories.
Under Specific Actions of the AMIF, Member States can receive additional funding for pre-defined activities that have a specific EU value. As specified in Annex II of the AMIF agreement, this includes funds for the establishment of transit and processing centres for refugees, in particular to support resettlement operations in cooperation with UNHCR.
As was the case under the ERF, the common Union priorities under the AMIF cover a vast area and populations, reflecting almost all UNHCR priority situations.
2012 EU response for refugees ex-Libya
In 2011-12, more than 3,400 persons from 22 different countries who had fled the 2011 violence and conflict in Libya were resident in Shousha camp at the Tunisian border, with a further 2,000 stranded at Salloum camp along the Egyptian-Libyan border. In early 2012, UNHCR called on states – particularly those in Europe – to offer resettlement places for refugees ex-Libya stranded at the borders of Egypt and Tunisia. Compared to the 2008 response for refugees from Iraq, the response from Europe was initially quite slow – with the exception of Norway, no European country created new resettlement places for this caseload. As mentioned previously, ultimately a total of 3,733 refugees were accepted for resettlement from Shousha (3,041) and Salloum (692) camps, of which 869 refugees (667 from Shousha and 202 from Salloum) were accepted by Member States. UNHCR officially closed Shousha camp on 30 June 2013, with a proposal to locally integrate those remaining.
EU support for emergency resettlement
In 2012, the European Commission initiated a specific preparatory action57 to support the resettlement of refugees in emergency conditions. The implementation of the action was based on a system of grants awarded to Member States willing to resettle emergency cases. Only Austria (Syrian refugees) and Ireland (resettlement out of Syria) applied to use this fund. However, the action also provided UNHCR with financial support to increase its capacity in emergency resettlement operations by allocating funding to the ETFs in both Romania and Slovakia, strengthening UNHCR’s capacity to coordinate emergency resettlement, to monitor the effectiveness of the use of emergency resettlement places, and to advocate for resettlement countries to adopt emergency quotas.