Minister Fitzgerald welcomes comprehensive package of measures on Mediterranean migration

Ireland to join other Member States in new solidarity measure to Greece and Italy

20 July 2015

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD, announced today that the Government had agreed, subject to Oireachtas approval, that Ireland should participate in a European Union plan to relocate up to 40,000 persons in clear need of international protection from Italy and Greece to other Member States, as part of the EU response to the unprecedented migration crisis in the Mediterranean.

The comprehensive package of measures finalised today includes an agreement to establish a number of ‘hotspots’ in Italy and Greece where migrants will be registered and fingerprinted in line with EU law. Individuals who are identified as likely to be genuine refugees can be put forward for relocation to another Member State where they will be given the opportunity of protection, while irregular migrants are to be returned to their countries of origin.

Ireland has agreed to relocate 600 people over the next 2 years. This is in addition to Ireland's previous commitment to resettle 520 refugees directly from areas affected by conflict, and the humanitarian search and rescue missions undertaken in the region by the Naval Service.

The Minister said: "The scale of the challenge facing the EU in relation to migration is enormous and we have reached a point where Italy and Greece, who are really on the front line, are under unsustainable pressure. They can't be left to shoulder that burden alone just because of their geographical situation. It is important that Ireland join together with our partners to assist in the relocation effort and show solidarity, just as we have on refugee resettlement and in the exemplary work of the Naval Service in search and rescue in the Mediterranean."

As part of the relocation process, a full security check will be carried out by the relocating Member State. There will also be an opportunity to take individuals’ preferences and wider suitability, such as language skills and cultural ties, into account before a decision is made on whether to relocate them to Ireland. The people relocated will have their applications for refugee status examined in Ireland. The mechanism is confined to people coming from countries which have a higher than 75% recognition rate for asylum claims in the EU. They are likely to be either Syrians or Eritreans in the first instance. Funding of €6,000 per case will come from the EU.

The Minister however stressed that relocation was not a long term solution but was a means of alleviating pressure while a series of other more long term measures were put in place as part of a comprehensive EU strategy. These include concerted action against smugglers, strengthening the capacity of the EU to return people who do not have a valid protection claim in the EU, and working in cooperation with countries of origin and transit.

The Minister continued, "This is an emergency and we will rally round our partners. Relocation is not however a long term solution; we see it as a once off response to relieve the pressure. There is a determination at EU level to respond to the migration challenge in a comprehensive manner, including action against the people smugglers who live off the desperation of the people trying to reach Europe. Ultimately the approach must be aimed at doing more to tackle these migratory pressures closer to their source."

The Minister also confirmed the expansion in Ireland’s ongoing programme of resettlement:

“Many of the people making these desperate journeys across the Mediterranean have been driven from their homes by the conflict in Syria and by other humanitarian crises. Ireland has a history of refugee resettlement going back many years. Over the course of 2015 and 2016 we will give 520 refugees from Syria whose lives have been destroyed by war a chance to rebuild those lives.”

Following today’s discussion, at which pledges for over 20,000 resettlement places and over 30,000 relocation places were confirmed by Member States, it is expected that Ministers will return at a later date in order to finalise the pledges required to meet the European Council’s target of 40,000 relocation places. The Council Decision setting out how the relocation mechanism will operate was also agreed and will be adopted in September. A motion for Ireland to opt-in to the measure will be brought to the Oireachtas following that adoption.