Russia’s war in Ukraine and its ensuing refugee exodus may complicate French EU presidency plans to get member states to relocate asylum seekers arriving via the Mediterranean Sea.
An EU diplomat told reporters on Thursday (9 June) that the Netherlands, for instance, would not be able to commit to relocating people under the French EU presidency proposal, given the pressure.
The diplomat, who asked not to be named, said that it remains to be seen whether the war would “translate into maybe a lower commitment to relocation or even no commitment to relocation.”
The French proposal, a political declaration, seeks to relocate 10,000 people over the span of a year to other EU states and is billed as a temporary measure before a more permanent European Commission plan is installed at a later date.
It means EU states would still have to commit to a relocation target based on GDP and population size, an issue that has in the past roused heated internal political tensions.
However, it is entirely voluntary and also allows them to rescind their relocation commitments should significant numbers of people arrive from elsewhere.
Those who refuse can instead decide to offer cash or other forms of assistance to member states sharing the Mediterranean coastline and under migratory pressure.
With the exception of two eastern EU states, most are said to be onboard but it remains unclear how many will agree to relocate asylum seekers.
Prior to the war in Ukraine, a so-called ‘coalition of the willing’ of EU states had pressed for relocation as part of the broader push for asylum and migration reforms.
But the EU diplomat said some in that coalition are also facing a lot of pressure on their reception systems.
“I think the real question will be how many people will be able to actually commit to relocation,” said the diplomat.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) on Thursday said 4.8 million refugees from Ukraine have been registered throughout Europe.
Of those, some 3.2 million have been given EU temporary protection or similar national protection schemes, granting them access to work permits and other benefits.
The French proposal will be discussed among EU interior ministers on Friday in Luxembourg.
Any decision or commitment on relocations will have to be made at the “highest political levels,” noted the EU diplomat.