There were no cameras or reporters to accompany the first repatriation flight of migrants who arrived in Greece from the Aegean. Seventy Pakistanis, who were denied permission to continue marching along the battered Balkan route, were taken from the detention center in Amygdaleza, near Athens, and shipped overnight to Islamabad a few days ago, escorted only by officials from Frontex and Greek police.
It was a completely different atmosphere at a raucous press conference, just a few hours earlier, when E.U. Migration Commissioner Dimitri Avramopoulos and others announced migrants and refugees would now be sorted at a “hotspot” on Lesbos and then settled according to quotas established by the Commission.
After managing the immediate emergency, “the greatest migration since the end of World War II,” Avramopoulos repeated, officials would begin filtering who can and cannot enter the European fortress. At a meeting scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in Valletta, Malta, leaders will iron out a long-term immigration strategy. Preparatory documents for the meeting emphasize human rights and international conventions, but say it is essential to create channels for legal entry and intervene in countries of departure, through the use of remittances and micro-credit. The E.U. is expected to provide €1.5 billion in support for Africa alone.
But that’s for later. The priority now is to begin identifying asylum seekers, including by logging their fingerprints, and speedily rejecting anyone unwanted, including so-called economic migrants in search of a better life. Greece and Italy are required to comply quickly with this new hotspot program.
The plan is borrowed from crisis management strategies in war zones, in which specialist teams are sent to hotspots to help local staff distribute emergency aid and to coordinate the exchange of information relevant to the security of the E.U.
Who proposed this system? The same people who will run it: officials of the powerful European agencies Frontex and the European Asylum Support Office. The latter, created in 2010, retains a name that does not correspond to its current functions. The European Commission will pay the technocrats of these two agencies to manage the migrant crisis along the Balkan route.
Brussels plans to spend €9.2 billion in total in 2015 and 2016. By contrast, Operation Mare Nostrum — a mission of search and rescue, not identification and rejection, and therefore not run by Frontex — cost the government a tenth of that. The larger budget this year will allow Brussels to help — or rather supplant — oversight by member states in the hotspot areas.
In the long term, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker wants to “strengthen cooperation with third-countries” from which migrants and refugees are arriving, such as Turkey. That’s not new: Gaddafi’s Libya once played that role.
In a related development, a Nov. 3 memo from Brussels points out that several European countries now demanding their slice of E.U. funds to accommodate refugees are behind on payments to the U.N. refugee agency, the European emergency funds for Syria and Africa and the World Food Program.
Austria, which is supposed to take another 2,000 migrants, did not give a penny of the €36 million it had promised to charity. Germany, which is welcoming another 27,000 refugees, owes €123 million to NGOs. And the United Kingdom, which, along with Ireland and Denmark, raised the banner of no quotas for migrants, has the highest debt to international agencies: €137 million.
As part of its grand refugee plan, the European Commission’s shopping list envisages supplies of rubber boots, sleeping bags, cots, blankets, containers, field kitchens and heated tents to ease the chill of winter at the borders of Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. But above all they want to hire an additional 157 EASO agents and 353 more Frontex border guards to reinforce those already stationed in Italy and Greece.
Meanwhile, however, the number of rejections remained negligible. Since October, there have been only four flights carrying 153 people to Tunisia and Egypt, and a few more to other countries, via Frontex, carrying 569 people.
With regard to movements, while the European Council President Donald Tusk said that in October 218,000 entered Europe by sea, in the same month in Italy, only 48 people were resettled to Estonia and 38 to Sweden.
The plan was to distribute 160,000 refugees among the member states, but the states have only made room for about 100,000. So what’s going to happen to 61,744 people? That’s a question to ask the European politicians gathered in Malta this week.