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Relocation and resettlement in the EU

This article introduces policy and data on emergency quotas for asylum seekers in the EU

The Emergency Relocation Mechanism, first launched in May 2015 and expanded in September 2015, has been an important EU policy response that seeks to enforce a more equitable sharing of responsibility for asylum seekers among member-states and to take some of the pressure off front-line states.

The plan envisaged the relocation of 160,000 asylum seekers, including 66,4000 in Greece and 39,000 in Italy, which would be implemented over a two-year period from September 2015 to September 2017. The nationalities eligible for relocation were those with at least a 75 per cent recognition rate across the EU. The plan initially only involved Syrians. Iraqis and Afghans missed the 75 per cent criterion by two percentage points, while Eritreans were also under the threshold.

The implementation of this scheme has been difficult as several of the receiving member states have been reluctant to accept relocated asylum seekers, which has subsequently created a lot of administrative delays.

After the launch of the scheme in September 2015, the number of relocations remained very low and by March 2016 only 660 people had been moved, mainly from Greece, to other member states. In May 2016 the European Commission declared that receiving member states should state the grounds on which they refused a relocation request. In reality, there is no legal means to oblige a member state to justify any negative decision as it is their sovereign right to refuse such a request.

The number of relocated asylum seekers started to increase during the second half of 2016, with more than 1,000 transfers every month after November 2016 and a record figure of over 3,000 transfers in June 2017. As of 26 July 2017, the total number of relocations stood at 24,676: 16,803 from Greece and 7,873 from Italy. This amounted to just over 15% of the total figure of the 160,000 that had been originally agreed in 2015.

In September 2016 Amnesty International noted that the number of people allocated for relocation was insufficient in the face of the current emergency. Indeed, as of 1 September 2017 only Ireland, Luxembourg, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and Sweden have taken more than 50% of the number assigned to them, Malta more than the number requested, and Poland and Hungary have taken 0 people.

The companion scheme to relocation is resettlement. According to the European Commission, resettlement is the transfer of non-EU national or stateless persons who have been identified as in need of international protection to an EU state where they are admitted either on humanitarian grounds or with refugee status.

As the European Commission reported in July 2017, member-states had continued to increase their efforts and had offered resettlement to 17,179 people of the 22,504 agreed under the July 2015 scheme. During the same month, a further 7,806 Syrian refugees were resettled from Turkey to member states under the terms of the EU-Turkey Statement.

Why do you think some EU member states have been reluctant to take asylum seekers? And why have other countries been more willing to relocate asylum seekers? Share your thoughts in the comments.

© European University Institute
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