izbjeglice, migranti.jpg
Photograph: EPA/YANNIS KOLESIDIS

The European Union's executive is due Wednesday to lay out options which it says will ensure a fairer distribution of refugees across the bloc, after its asylum system broke down last year amid a migration surge into Europe.

Under the EU's so-called Dublin rules, asylum seekers must register their claim in the first member state they set foot in, and that country decides whether to accept or reject the request.

For most of the more than 1 million people reaching the bloc last year, this would have been Greece. But the country was overwhelmed by the arrivals, letting many of them continue their journey unchecked towards wealthy northern European states such as Germany and Sweden.

The European Commission is expected to outline two options to reform the Dublin system, according to a draft communication seen by dpa. The initial aim is to trigger debate among member states, with concrete legislative proposals due to follow at a later date.

One option foresees a "fundamental" change to the EU's asylum system, while the other, more modest approach, would involve tweaking the existing Dublin rules.  

Under the first alternative, all EU-wide asylum seekers would be assigned to member states according to a distribution key taking into account the country's size, wealth and capacity to absorb them. Other factors such as family links would also be taken into account.

The commission is to suggest that the European Asylum Support Office could ultimately be tasked with processing asylum claims, according to the draft document.

This would establish a "single and centralised decision-making process," harmonizing procedures and ensuring a "fair sharing of responsibility" among member states, the draft says. 

But any move to shift asylum decisions away from national capitals and onto the European level is likely to face resistance, as refugee-related issues are highly sensitive and have triggered a populist backlash in a number of member states.

Under the second option, the Dublin system would be kept in place, complemented with a "corrective fairness mechanism" that would be triggered if a mass inflow of asylum seekers places heavy pressures on a given member state.

Once the number of arrivals hits a predefined threshold for that country, a share of asylum seekers would be reallocated across the EU, according to a distribution key.

Member states already agreed last year to the one-off redistribution of up to 160,000 asylum seekers from frontline countries, notably Greece and Italy.

But by Monday, just 1,111 people had been relocated under that scheme, according to the commission - raising questions over whether a more permanent redistribution scheme would work.

Any legislative changes to the Dublin system would require member state approval, as well as undergoing scrutiny in the European Parliament.

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