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  Refugee policy in Europe

  33 Debates

The heads of state and government were unable to overcome their differences regarding binding quotas for a fair distribution of refugees at their EU summit in Brussels. EU Council President Donald Tusk and several Eastern European states want to scrap the refugee quotas system, while receiving countries like Germany and the Netherlands call for solidarity. The deeply entrenched front lines are also reflected in Europe's commentaries.

The UN has sharply criticised the EU for cooperating with the Libyan coastguard service in the interception of refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean. This had led to a marked rise in the number of people living in dreadful conditions in Libyan 'detention centres', the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said. Some commentators agree, while others praise Italy and the EU for adopting a mediating role.

The ECJ has rejected the complaint lodged by Hungary and Slovakia against the quotas established in 2015 for redistributing refugees. Bratislava plans to accept the ruling, while Budapest has announced that it won't comply. What consequences will the ruling have for refugee policy and the EU's conduct towards Hungary?

European and African leaders have met in Paris to discuss ways of stemming migration across the Mediterranean. Asylum applications could now be processed directly in African states. Some commentators welcome the move, but doubt it can be implemented. Others are aghast, and call the meeting the summit of disgrace.

Libya's coastguard has boosted its activities in the Mediterranean and banned NGOs from taking action in Libyan waters, while Italy and the EU had provided them with technical and logistical support. Far fewer migrants have made it to Italy as a result, but NGOs and left-leaning politicians have fiercely criticised the initiative. How should Europe position itself?

In the dispute over rescue operations for refugees on the Mediterranean the Italian police has impounded a ship, the Iuventa, operated by the German NGO Jugend Rettet. It suspects the NGO of aiding the activities of people smugglers. Like the majority of NGOs engaging in the rescue missions, the German organisation has refused to sign a code of conduct for these operations. Italian media voice their outrage.

The Balkan route is closed off, but the problem remains unsolved. More than 90,000 refugees have already reached Italy this year, while over 2,000 have drowned in the Mediterranean. Rome is becoming increasingly critical of the rescue missions out at sea and the Ministry of the Interior and NGOs are wrangling over a code of conduct meant to regulate these operations. Both the EU and the NGOs need to act now, commentators stress.

In view of rising migrant numbers in Italy, the government in Vienna has threatened to ramp up border controls and send troops to guard Brenner Pass. Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz let it be known that the country's borders would be "protected" if necessary. Are these statements just campaign bluster or the logical consequence of the EU's failure to manage the refugee crisis?

France and Germany have promised to show "unflinching solidarity" with Italy in the refugee crisis. The two countries will do their best to honour their agreements regarding taking in refugees, France's interior ministry said on Sunday at the end of a three-way summit. The countries also presented a "code of conduct" for aid organisations. All just hot air, Europe's press concludes.

"Decisions that have been made are applicable law, even if one voted against them". With these words EU Commission President Juncker has defended the infringement procedures against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The three states refuse to comply with the quota system for the distribution of refugees decided in 2015. Are sanctions justified? And what should Brussels do next?

Hungary's government has passed even stricter laws for asylum seekers. The parliament has voted in favour of establishing "transit zones" at border areas where both refugees who arrive in the country and those already in Hungary are to be detained. Prime Minister Orbán has once again shown his country in a bad light, some journalists criticise. Others are thrilled to see that the country is finally safe.

The EU member states are not obliged to issue visas to refugees at their foreign missions so that they can travel to these countries and apply for asylum there, the European Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday. Instead decisions regarding the issue of visas must be governed by national laws, it decided. Many governments are relieved at this ruling by the EU's highest court, but Europe's press is at odds.

The EU wants to limit migration from Northern Africa by intensifying cooperation with Libya. Stepped-up controls of the Libyan coastline are to dissuade refugees from crossing the Mediterranean and encourage them to remain at reception centres in the country, the heads of state and government resolved at their meeting in Malta. An agreement with an unstable state will achieve nothing, commentators stress, and see Moscow taking a leading role.

As of March the European Commission wants to resume the policy of having refugees to the EU who first set foot in Greece transferred back there. This part of the Dublin Regulation was suspended in 2011 because Greek reception centres didn't conform with international standards. Athens is still not prepared for such a move, some commentators warn. Others believe there won't be any transfers even if the plan goes ahead.

A month after the referendum on refugee quotas the whole issue of refugees has disappeared from public discourse in Hungary. 98 percent of those who voted cast their ballot against the EU quota system, but only 44 percent of eligible voters took part. A 50 percent turnout was required for the referendum to be valid. Did Orbán fail with his refugee referendum?

In a referendum on October 2 the citizens of Hungary will vote on whether to accept mandatory quotas for the distribution of refugees among EU member states. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán rejects the quota system already approved by Brussels. For some commentators the result is already clear. Others believe that a lack of voter participation may put Orbán in a tight spot.

Close borders, ramp up Frontex - at a refugee summit in Vienna eleven EU member states have agreed on measures aimed at stopping irregular migration along the Balkan route for good. Some journalists see the decisions as progress, while for others closing more doors is tantamount to capitulation.

Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have opposed EU refugee quotas and instead proposed the model of "flexible solidarity" at the EU summit in Bratislava. The concept aims to allow member states to decide for themselves how they will help ease the crisis, taking into account their respective experiences and capabilities. Will the Visegrád states' anti-refugee stance win out?

Austria's ÖVP and SPÖ coalition has agreed on an emergency asylum law according to which refugees may be turned away at the border if the number of migrants reaches an upper limit, set at 37,500 for 2016. The law is highly controversial in Austria, as the commentaries show.

The British government plans to build a big cement wall in Calais to prevent refugees from getting into the Eurotunnel. The wall would be part of a 20-million euro package with which London and Paris aim to boost border protection. Some commentators see the plans as proof of the EU's failure in the refugee crisis. Others see the barrier as a reasonable measure.

The EU Commission has firmed up its plans for a common European asylum system. A draft regulation foresees a revision of the Dublin Regulation. Under the new rules countries that refuse to take in refugees would pay into a fund while those taking in refugees would receive financial support. Some commentators see the plan as the long-awaited breakthrough; others are very sceptical.

Under pressure from Interior Minister Milan Chovanec the government in Prague has put an early end to a pilot project for resettling persecuted Christians from Iraq. The move came after 25 of the 90 Iraqis participating in the project tried to move on to Germany to apply for asylum there instead of staying in the Czech Republic. The Czech press discusses the interior minister's reaction.

More than 12,000 people are stranded in the village of Idomeni on the border between Greece and Macedonia. They are camping in ordinary tents which are sinking into the mud after days of heavy rain and risking their lives to cross the border. Who can help the people in Idomeni?

In the wake of the Vienna summit the EU interior ministers agreed on Thursday to step up controls of Europe's external borders. Commentators doubt the EU-Turkey summit on March 7 will bring a breakthrough on the refugee crisis.

The Balkan states and Austria have agreed in Vienna on joint measures for reducing the number of refugees on the Balkan route. Some commentators see the cooperation as a step in the right direction. Others complain that such unilateral action undermines European solidarity.

Ahead of the EU summit at the end of the week resistance is growing to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's proposal of a quota system for distributing refugees. The fact that large and prosperous countries such as France have now stopped toeing the line leaves commentators increasingly sceptical about the future cohesion of the EU.

With their "plan B" the Visegrád states want to shut down the Balkan route if Greece proves unable to seal its EU external border. The press evaluates the group's tough stance in the refugee crisis.

At the request of Berlin, Athens and Ankara, Nato will deploy ships to the Aegean under German command. Some commentators hope the mission will be more effective in fighting people smugglers and improve cooperation between Turkey and Greece. Others warn that just going after rubber boats won't solve the refugee crisis.

Faced with hundreds of thousands of refugees on the move, several Schengen countries have reintroduced temporary border controls. French experts estimate that the EU economy would lose around 100 billion euros if permanent border controls are introduced in the Schengen zone. Can the Europe without borders still be saved?

Sweden wants to deport almost half of all the asylum seekers who entered the country in the past year. Between 60,000 and 80,000 newcomers will have to leave, the government has announced. The decision sends a strong signal, observers comment.

Austria has become the first European country to set an upper limit on the number of asylum seekers it will take in: this year it will accept a maximum of 37,500 migrants. What repercussions will this decision have?

After Sweden on Monday introduced passport checks for everyone entering the country from Denmark, Copenhagen has in turn introduced controls on its border with Germany. Both countries want to limit the number of refugees entering their territory with these measures. The much proclaimed end of the Schengen Area will become reality in 2016, some commentators predict. Others suspect that Northern Europe simply wants to exclude the weaker South from Schengen.

The EU Commission wants to expand Frontex and give it a stronger mandate. It presented its plans on Tuesday in Strasbourg. In future the agency will be able to deploy border protection forces even against the will of individual member states. Some commentators see the strengthening of this body as long overdue. For others the goal of sealing Europe off is an illusion.