EU officials were yesterday racing against time to ensure a successful outcome of the European Commission’s first pledging conference on Malta’s intra-EU resettlement pilot project for asylum seekers, scheduled to be held this afternoon in Brussels.

Sources close to the Commission said last night top officials spent the last few days contacting member states “personally” and encouraging them to make “concrete” and “significant” pledges to relocate “Maltese” asylum seekers in their countries.

“We have made an extra effort over the past few days and we are hopeful member states will respond positively,” an EU official said.

“We have explained the situation in Malta to member states and the problem this small island is facing in bearing the brunt of the Libyan conflict. We are sure they understood this position, even though many are still fearful of the burden-sharing concept.”

Today’s pledging conference, hosted by the EU Executive in the margins of an extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial Council, will be the first of its kind since the start of the Maltese pilot project in July 2009.

Also known as European Relocation Malta (Eurema), the project is specifically designed to cater for the island’s needs by granting substantial financial assistance to member states for every person granted international protection who is resettled from Malta.

The project was given a major boost last month when the Commission decided to extend it in view of the Libyan conflict. Originally, it was supposed to come to an end this year.

Although the Commission has refused Malta’s call to trigger the solidarity mechanism under the existing Temporary Protection Directive, so that member states will have to commit themselves on burden sharing, the EU Executive said that it would extend the Maltese project and make a sustained effort to encourage member states to participate.

Since this latest decision to extend Eurema, The Times has learnt that 10 member states have pledged to relocate 150 “Maltese” refugees.

Government sources confirmed that, although it was evident the Commission was making a genuine effort to help Malta, more pledges were needed because the numbers were still on the low side.

Among the member states already committed to participating in this second phase of Eurema is Germany, which has pledged to take 100 migrants. Other member states such as Belgium, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland made only “token” pledges of five to 10 refugees. Speaking about the conference initiative a few days ago, European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, said Brussels was doing all it could to appeal to member states to show concrete solidarity with Malta.

However, she said the EU could not “impose solidarity on member states because their decisions in the area are sovereign”.

Some large states, such as the UK, France and Spain, have so far shied away from making pledges.

The pilot project initiative was launched by the Commission on an experimental and temporary basis in July 2009, following continuous pressure by Malta.

In its first phase, 10 member states (France, Germany, the UK, Portugal, Luxembourg, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia and Romania) pledged to relocate beneficiaries of international protection present in Malta to their territories.

Two international organisations (UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration) also participate in the project. France and Germany pledged to relocate about 100 people each and the other participating member states pledged between five and 10 each, leading to a total of about 255. By last month, more than 220 of the beneficiaries of international protection covered by the project had already left Malta and only transfers to four member states were still pending. These exclude the new pledges made since the extension was announced by the Commission.

The project is being funded by the European Commission through the European Refugee Fund for close to €2 million. The Commission is now expected to increase the funds in order to respond to the new pledges expected today.

The resettlement of refugees is not a European tradition, except in certain countries such as Sweden.

In 2010, about 5,000 refugees were resettled across the EU compared to 75,000 in the United States. The 27 member states together accept fewer refugees than Canada alone.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us