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Has the EU asylum system failed?

Monika GriebelerFebruary 8, 2016

Dimitris Avramopoulos is the European Commissioner for Migration. His job description includes making the EU’s asylum system work - so far without great success. On this week’s Conflict Zone, he tries to explain why.

Griechenland Flüchtlinge bei Lesbos
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/S. Palacios

"Europe is confronted with an unprecedented pressure. Nobody had foreseen, ten years ago, that right now we would have all these influxes of refugees and migrants," EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos said in an exclusive interview with DW.

According to the International Organization for Migration, more than one million refugees made their way to Europe through irregular means in 2015. It’s the biggest wave of mass migration since the end of the Second World War. And the number is continuing to rise.

The overwhelming majority of those coming to Europe lands in Italy or Greece.

The number of people seeking refuge increased exponentially in summer last year. That’s when European leaders adopted a relocation and resettlement scheme that foresaw quotas to distribute refugees within the EU.

Flüchtlinge mit Behinderung auf dem Weg nach Europa
More than one million refugees made their way to Europe in 2015Image: Getty Images/J. J. Mitchell

"From that moment it was up to member states to start delivering," Avramopoulos said on DW's "Conflict Zone."

A policy hardly anyone wanted

Several member states including Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic have staunchly refused to implement the mandatory quotas. As a result of the 160,000 refugees who should have been relocated from most affected states, only 400 have been moved.

"It's not a great record," Avramopoulos admitted, adding that the European Commission is aware of the situation. He refused, however, to consider it a failure.

Tim Sebastian: "You were supposed to broker deals, Commissioner. You are supposed to get agreements before you announce policies. But you didn't."

Dimitri Avramopoulos Interview Conflict Zone
Dimitris Avramopoulos is this week's guest on DW's Conflict Zone with Tim Sebastian.Image: DW/F. Suyak

Dimitri Avramopoulos: "We did. The agreement was done. The decisions were made."

Tim Sebastian: "But nobody carried it out."

Dimitri Avramopoulos: "Not nobody, but there was a certain reluctance because it also has to do with domestic politics. Many governments were under pressure by populist and extremist movements within their countries. They believe that they would lose votes. It is the moment for the member states to show leadership, as the European Commission has already done."

Because of the reluctance to implement the deal, the European Commission has initiated infringement cases against 23 of 27 EU member states.

Fear and populism on the rise

The German government has so far been among the states trying to support a pan-European solution. At home, Chancellor Angela Merkel has resisted demands for a cap on refugee arrivals. Instead, she is counting on international efforts to deliver.

But the mood in Germany is shifting, too. Recent polls show that 81 percent of participants believe that the government in Berlin does not "have the refugee situation under control."

Merkel's personal approval rates have slipped considerably. And the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which strongly opposes her open-door migration policy, is now polling at a record 12 percent nationwide. German police recorded more than 800 attacks on refugee shelters in 2015. That’s four times as many as the year before.

Deutschland Wahlkampf Europawahl CDU Plakat mit Angela Merkel
"Successful together in Europe," Merkel's campaign poster readsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"From what is happening around me, I cannot hide my fear," Avramopoulos replied when asked whether people feel secure at the moment. However, he said: "It's not fear that should prevail in making and implementing policies."

Like Merkel, Avramopoulos promoted a European solution to the current challenges.

"I want more Europe, because this is the only answer," he said.

The fate of Europe is at stake

On February 18 and 19, the leaders of all EU member states will meet in Brussels to discuss progress in tackling the refugee crisis at a summit in Brussels.

Dimitri Avramopoulos Interview Conflict Zone
Dimitris Avramopoulos: "We are not alone."Image: DW/F. Suyak

Four main issues are on the agenda of the summit: a more effective border control along the Greek coast, setting up registration centers in Greece and Italy, supporting Turkey with three billion euros and, again, a debate about the relocation of refugees within Europe.

"A lot of things are moving too slow but we are here to push in order to step up efforts," Avramopouls said on DW's Conflict Zone.

"We are not alone. The leaders of Europe must realize that they have to share these responsibilities with us. And if they have something else in mind, they must be very frank to their citizens and ask them whether they want to stay in Europe or not."

The full Conflict Zone interview will air on February 10 at 17:30 UTC.