Spain manages to include the Canarian route in the new European refugee distribution system

Spain has managed to include the migratory route that reaches the Canary Islands in the refugee distribution mechanism agreed last Friday by the EU interior ministers. The new system, which aspires to become the model to follow during future migratory crises, is mainly intended to help the destination countries of the Mediterranean routes, such as Italy, Greece, Cyprus or Malta. But the agreement of the ministers, to which EL PAÍS has had access, includes a mention of “the western Atlantic route” in reference, as confirmed by diplomatic sources, to the migratory flow to the Canary Islands. Brussels trusts that the existence of a distribution system for asylum seekers established in advance will make it possible to deal with migratory crises in an orderly and supportive manner, without falling into the confrontation between partners that occurred during the refugee crisis of 2015. These are the keys to an agreement considered historic by the European Commission.

Who has promoted the new mechanism?

France, which holds the presidency of the EU during the first half of 2022, and the European Commission have been the architects of the agreement, embodied in a six-page text.

What does the pact consist of?

In a declaration signed by the ministers of the EU and the Schengen area responsible for migration policy in each country.

What weight does the agreement have?

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The European Commission was quick to describe the decision as “historic” because it opens the first way to save the Migration Pact, a set of legal reforms launched in 2020 and that seemed about to capsize due to serious discrepancies between community partners. The new mechanism arrives with a principle of agreement on two of the pending legislative projects (the scrutiny and the management of the migrant database).

What does the declaration commit to?

The Declaration commits to “applying a voluntary, simple and predictable solidarity mechanism” designed to help the States most affected by migratory flows.

How will solidarity materialize?

The participating countries will have to specify in the coming days the number of asylum seekers that they can relocate from the State of arrival in the EU. The figure will be calculated on the basis of the Gross Domestic Product and the population of the country to which the refugees move in relation to these same data from the first country of entry.

Which people can be relocated?

The Declaration stipulates that relocation “shall apply primarily to persons in need of international protection, giving priority to the most vulnerable”.

A group of migrants waited on May 12 to be questioned by the Spanish border police at the port of Arguineguín, in Gran Canaria.
A group of migrants waited on May 12 to be questioned by the Spanish border police at the port of Arguineguín, in Gran Canaria.Borja Suarez (REUTERS)

Is relocation the only way to offer solidarity?

No. If a country, for various reasons, is not in a position or does not wish to relocate refugees, it can participate in the mechanism through a financial contribution, destined to defray the costs of the migratory crisis in the country of arrival. Solidarity may also be channeled through material or personal aid for refugee reception tasks, border surveillance and control, or the detention and return of irregular migrants.

Who will calculate the cost of each migration crisis?

The European Commission will be responsible for calculating and sharing the burden.

Which countries can benefit?

The text expressly points to the Mediterranean coastal partners, but adds that priority solidarity also “includes the western Atlantic route”. Diplomatic sources indicate that Spain has strongly supported this reference to the route of small boats and other vessels that reach the Canary coasts.

Are all countries obliged to participate in the mechanism?

Participation, for now, is voluntary. But the Commission will set a minimum refugee distribution quota for all participants to prevent the option of financial or material aid from leaving a large number of asylum seekers without available places.

Once the mechanism is in place, can a country withdraw?

The agreement includes the possibility for a country to reconsider its reception offer if it faces “a situation of disproportionate pressure on its reception system as a result of secondary flows”, that is, irregular migrants who move to a second State after having entered the EU.

How long will the mechanism work?

The agreement will, for now, be valid for one year. Six months after its entry into force, its operation will be reviewed, in particular, if it has had an impact on migratory flows because some countries fear the pull effect. The signatories are already contemplating the possibility of extending it if the results are positive.

What will be the final solution?

This temporary mechanism is called to be the basis of the one that is applied when the Migration Pact is completed. “The mechanism, although it is a non-legislative and temporary measure, can offer useful lessons for the permanent mechanism that will be introduced with the asylum and migration management regulation proposed by the Commission”, indicates the text of the Declaration.

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