European Union set to discuss reforms to asylum system following comprehensive refugee deal with Turkey
The European Union is expected to reform plans for its asylum system this week following a comprehensive refugee deal with Turkey that is expected to bring a resolution to the refugee crisis affecting its member states.
According to a European Union law known as the Dublin Resolution EU member states must examine applications by asylum seekers requesting international protection.
Greece has been the main entry point for refugees seeking to reach Europe, and since the law dictates that refugees must claim asylum from the first country they arrive in it has been under a huge burden.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's open door policy towards Syrian refugees has added to the huge influx of people running from war and conflict in their countries in an attempt to reach north-western European states.
Many member states have controversially failed to show solidarity for a new centralised immigration system, out of fear of being forced to share responsibility for the large number refugees in Greece and other states.
Under the refugee deal agreed last month between Turkey and the EU, Greece will declare any refugee who illegally arrives on the Greek islands from April 4 onwards as ineligible for asylum and start sending them back to Turkey.
Turkey has resettled over 3 million refugees since the start of the Syrian Civil War.
The agreement means that Turkey will send one Syrian refugee from Turkey into EU countries for resettlement for each refugee Ankara takes back from Greece, a move that European leaders have approved and believe will ease the biggest refugee crisis since the end of World War II.
The European Commission is expected to provide a series of "possible options" on Wednesday, prior to setting out a formal proposition to reform the asylum system further down the track.
EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said in December that "Dublin was not designed as a solidarity instrument for ensuring an equitable responsibility sharing among member states," adding that the current uneven distribution is unsustainable.
European countries have so far failed to carry out even the most modest plans to tackle the crisis by resettling refugees.
EU diplomats have widely resisted a plan to eventually redistribute 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to the rest of the EU.
Just 1,100 have been relocated so far out of that number, leading critics to say a mockery is being made of the principles of European solidarity and humanitarianism.
There have also been suggestions some countries are setting unacceptable conditions by refusing black people, Muslims and large families, with Eastern European states the worst for discriminating on religious or racial grounds.
Member states can usually send asylum-seekers back to the country of first entry under the Dublin rules, but a ruling in 2011 at the heigh of the debt crisis by the EU's top court said conditions for asylum seekers in Greece were degrading, meaning that other countries can't send them back there. Brussels called on Athens in February to improve conditions for refugees.
Angela Merkel suggested in October last year that "the Dublin process, in its current form" may have become "obsolete."
The influx of refugees has increased since Germany weeks earlier said it would still accept Syrians, even if they technically should have applied for a refugee status in the first EU country they set foot in on their way to Germany.
More than 1 million refugees arrived in Europe last year with the majority taking a dangerous route across the Aegean sea from Turkey to the Greek islands.
Preparations for repatriation
Meanwhile, preparations are in progress in Lesbos to begin the transport of refugees to Turkey from the island in less than 24 hours.
Some 5,600 refugees have been registered on Greek islands since March 20 - the date on which the agreement with Turkey went into effect.
"Planning is in progress," said George Kyritsis, a Greek government spokesman for the refugee crisis.
Two passenger ships chartered by the EU border agency, Frontex, will sail from Lesbos to the Turkish coastal town of Dikili, the Athens News Agency reported.
The EU plans to send officers to Greece over the weekend to help carry out the first of returns.