European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker argued for ‘a system of relocation’ for migrants throughout the EU. But he has provided no further details on how quotas for individual countries would be determined. The idea of sharing the burden of asylum seekers across Europe is not new. The reason it has never been realized is precisely because no-one can agree on how to do it.
One option is to distribute asylum seekers in proportion to the population size in the destination country – thus Germany, the UK, France and Italy would receive the largest number. In practice Germany and Italy would likely support this approach, as both have received disproportionate numbers of asylum seekers this year, whereas it would certainly increase the numbers in the UK and France.
A second option is to determine proportions by the wealth of the destination country. It is no coincidence that the largest countries in Europe are also the wealthiest, but there are also countries with small populations that are very wealthy, for example the Netherlands and Belgium. They may be able to afford to take more asylum seekers, but they would argue that they do not have the space to accommodate them.
Ideally, the distribution of asylum seekers should be done with a view to integration. This might point to a third way to allocate asylum seekers, to states with significant resident populations with the same national or ethnic make-up. Good news for wealthy Finland, bad news for poorer Portugal. And what to do with asylum seekers from Eritrea and Syria without a longstanding migration history in Europe?
A fourth option is to compensate states for past flows of asylum seekers. Germany has traditionally been the largest country of destination in Europe and would receive a very considerable discount. But would that be fair in Europe’s largest and wealthiest state? The newer (and poorer and smaller) members of the European Union – Croatia and Romania for example – would witness a very significant increase.
Finally, any redistribution of asylum seekers would need to take account of the legal and administrative capacity of destination states to process their applications fairly. Various human rights organizations and advocates have already expressed concerns about the asylum systems of a number of countries, especially on the Eastern and Southern borders — nations that under most of the methods above would receive more asylum seekers not fewer. But should they be relieved of the burden because they have not developed the capacity to cope?
Ultimately burden-sharing is unlikely to occur. Alternative systems either advantage or disadvantage states, meaning they are unlikely to agree on a single, or even a hybrid, method.
And even if they do, the lack of internal borders means that asylum seekers are likely to redistribute themselves in any case.
Author: Dr Khalid Koser is Deputy Director and Academic Dean at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.
Image: Migrants wait to be transported to an immigration centre in the coastal city of Misrata, Libya, May 9, 2015. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny.