Five years after the peak of Europe’s migrant crisis, EU nations are meeting Wednesday to work out more shared responsibility for asylum seekers, a move actively backed by France.
The issue of migrants risking their lives to find safe haven in Europe was brought to the fore once more on Tuesday as French rescuers plucked 88 migrants from the English Channel in five different operations off France’s northern coast.
The authorities said they were trying to reach UK shores.
The rescues highlight the strain placed on European countries trying to deal with an influx of asylum-seekers fleeing war and poverty at home.
Figures published by France's immigration services showed that while there had been a slight rise in the number of asylum applications between July and August this year, 37 percent fewer applications were made in 2020 compared to the previous year.
'Compulsory' solidarity mechanism
The European Union is set to unveil a long-awaited asylum plan (New Pact on Migration and Asylum) Wednesday that will seek to get its 27 member states to commit to sharing the handling of asylum claims from migrants arriving on European shores.
The most contentious part of the plan is the “compulsory solidarity mechanism”.
"It's obvious to everybody that ad hoc solidarity or voluntary solidarity is not enough. That has been proven for many years now," said Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs. "It has to be mandatory."
The plan will make showing solidarity with all EU countries on the front lines – often Greece, Italy or Malta – compulsory when they are "under pressure" from arrivals.
It could mean that aid will no longer be limited to EU countries where asylum seekers are relocated to, but instead will be directed to other nations so they can return refused asylum seekers back to their country of origin.
Sharing the burden
France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Wednesday called for more "European solidarity" in the handling of asylum applications.
"The migration question can only be settled at the European level" the minister told France Inter ahead of the EU announcement.
"We still want a European solidarity. There is no reason why only Italy, France and Germany, broadly speaking, with Greece share this solidarity," said Darmanin.
All countries should share the burden of relocating arriving migrants, he insisted.
The measure may prove tough to pass however.
Austria's chancellor Sebastian Kurz has already warned the EU against forcing states to take in asylum seekers.
"We find that the distribution in Europe (of asylum seekers) has failed and many states reject this. It won't work like this," the 34-year-old conservative leader said Tuesday.
His country and other smaller nations have spoken out in the past against any mandatory asylum-seeker distribution.
The proposal follows a devastating fire earlier this month at an overcrowded camp for migrants and asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesbos that left thousands homeless -- and put EU migration policy back in the spotlight.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said last week that the new proposals would include plans to strengthen border security and return failed asylum seekers, which Kurz and allies are in favour of, while also including "a new strong solidarity mechanism".
The commission also wants to speed up asylum procedures, to quickly determine whether a person is eligible, and to prevent applicants from an uncertain life in camps.