BRUSSELS/STRASBOURG, June 13, (Agencies): The European Commission launched a legal case on Tuesday against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic for refusing to take in asylum-seekers, ratcheting up a bitter feud within the 28-nation bloc about how to deal with migration. The eurosceptic, nationalist-minded governments in Poland and Hungary have refused to take in anyone under a plan agreed by a majority of EU leaders in 2015 to relocate migrants from frontline states Italy and Greece to help ease their burden. The Czech Republic, another excommunist central European state, initially accepted 12 people but has since said it would not welcome more. “I regret to see that despite our repeated calls to pledge to relocate, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland have not yet taken the necessary action,” the EU’s migration chief, Dimitris Avramopoulos, told a news conference.
“For this reason, the Commission has decided to launch infringement procedures against these three member states … I sincerely hope that these member states can still reconsider their position and contribute fairly.” The ‘infringement procedure’ is a way for the EU’s executive to take to task countries that fail to meet their obligations. It opens the way for months, even years, of legal wrangling before a top EU court could potentially impose financial penalties. “The Czech Republic does not agree with the system of relocation,” Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said in response. “With regard to the worsened security situation in Europe and dysfunctionality of the quota system, it will not participate in it.” In a separate legal battle on the matter, Hungary and Slovakia have challenged the relocation agreement in a top EU court, with an initial indication of the ruling due next month. The easterners vindicate their stance on asylum seekers by citing security concerns, noting a series of militant Islamist attacks in western Europe since late 2015. The bulk of refugees come from the mainly Muslim Middle East and North Africa.
Meanwhile, the migrants pouring into Europe have changed routes: the crossing between Turkey and Greece is practically closed, but ever greater numbers are risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean between Libya and Italy. A criminal industry has flourished, while the European Union has beefed up its border agency Frontex to try to check the mass migration.
Frontex is at once both good cop and bad cop, rescuing migrants from sinking boats but also dropping them off at welcome centres where they risk being sent back home. Frontex head Fabrice Leggeri summed up the situation in an interview with AFP. On the shores of Greece there are now “80 or 100 people who arrive every day, whereas we had 2,500 a day” before the agreement with Turkey, said Leggeri.
Among those who arrive from Africa via the central Mediterranean and Libya, whose number is up by more than 40 percent, most come from west Africa. They are Senegalese, Guineans, Nigerians. In 2016 they totalled 180,000. They are mainly economic migrants and include many young men but also families and young women. Nigerian women are often exploited as prostitutes in Europe. “It’s not the poorest who leave, because they have to be able to pay the smugglers,” said Leggeri. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), of the more than one million people who made it to Europe in 2015, 850,000 crossed into Greece via the Aegean Sea. More than half came from Syria and most of the rest from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Following a landmark EU-Turkey accord in March 2016, the total number arriving in Europe by sea fell that year to around 363,000, IOM figures show. But as the number of arrivals in Greece dropped, the figures arriving from north Africa started to grow. By mid-April 2017, “some 36,000 migrants had arrived in Italy since the beginning of the year, or an increase of 43 percent over the same period last year,” according to Frontex. At the beginning of the most dangerous leg of the trip across the Sahara, the migrants are transported by Tuareg or Tebu nomads, for whom it is a traditional commercial activity, Leggeri said. The Mediterranean crossing however is run by criminal networks, both big and small, as well as lone smugglers. At the bottom of the ladder there are petty crooks, sometimes migrants themselves, who become the skippers of the small overloaded boats to pay for their own crossing, according to Leggeri. Then there are the middlemen who collect the money and organise the trip but who do not board. Their bosses are the network chiefs who “likely include people who previously worked in the police force” in Libya, Leggeri said.