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Confiscations, Deportations, and Vague Promises: Europe Asylum Policy Shifts Again

Notable announcements in asylum policy were made in the UK, Sweden, and Denmark, as the Netherlands proposes to send 100,000s migrants who reach Europe straight back to Turkey.

by Sally Hayden
Jan 28 2016, 5:20pm

Imagen por Phil Caller/VICE News

VICE News is closely watching the international migrant crisis. Check out the Open Water blog here.

Thousands of refugee children across Europe are still waiting to find out how a new UK government pledge on immigration rules will actually alter their lives — as other countries across the continent also struggle with the influx of migrants and refugees that is showing no signs of slowing.

In Sweden, Interior Minister Anders Ygeman announced that as many as 80,000 migrants may be deported over the next few years if their asylum claims are rejected. Ygeman said that around 45 percent of 2015's record 163,000 asylum seekers would likely be made to leave.

Thursday also saw a Dutch strategy aimed at tackling the migrant crisis put forward by Labour party leader Diederik Samsom, which suggested the European Union (EU) should begin sending sea arrivals back to Turkey from Greece. In return, the EU would pledge to take between 150,000 and 250,000 refugees each year directly from Turkey — much less than the 1 million that arrived to Europe by sea in 2015.

This proposal reportedly has the support of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, but its implementation would depend on Turkey being considered a safe country for refugees — which most of the EU does not currently agree it is. In a statement, Amnesty International called the plan "morally bankrupt."

Last Tuesday saw Denmark adopt a law allowing the seizure of migrants' personal belongings. Possessions including watches, mobile phones, and computers can be taken as a contribution to the expenses of keeping them.

Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei shut down an art exhibition in Copenhagen in protest at the legislation. "It made me feel very angry," he said. 

Meanwhile, the UK appears to have made a concession to those advocating for more help for unaccompanied refugee minors.

In an announcement made today, Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said the government will begin working with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) to resettle unaccompanied children from conflict regions, though they haven't given specifics on how many will be brought to Britain.

He also said the government would create a new 10 million-pound ($14.3m) fund to support the needs of vulnerable refugee and migrant children in Europe.

Brokenshire said that while they have asked UNHCR to identify "exceptional cases" where a child's best interests are served by resettlement to the UK, the government still believes "the vast majority are better off staying in the [Middle East] region so they can be reunited with surviving family members."

Related: 'I Am Alone With No Family': The Fight to Let Child Refugees Into Britain

The debate over unaccompanied minors with relatives in the UK has been reignited since the death of 15-year-old Masud Naveed, an Afghan teenager who suffocated in a truck in Dunkirk, France, while trying to travel illegally across to England to join his family there. He had been living in the Jungle migrant camp in Calais.

Last week a British court ruled that three minors and one dependent adult should be allowed to come to the UK to join their families, in a ruling that was welcomed by rights groups as "ground-breaking."

The four Syrians arrived in St. Pancras station, London, on the evening of January 21, where they were greeted by a welcome party. 

This judgment has escalated the hopes of around 200 other unaccompanied minors who are still left stranded in Calais, while aid groups estimate that thousands more throughout Europe could also be impacted by the ruling and eligible for resettlement to the UK.

Lily Caprani, UNICEF UK's Deputy Executive Director, told VICE News that her organization welcomed the most recent government announcement, which was made separately to the legal decision.

She said some of it merely involved reaffirming existing commitments. "In September we saw the government announce that they're planning to relocate 20,000 refugees, prioritizing children." Caprani added that children in conflict regions talked about today wouldn't necessarily be additional to that prior promise. "We welcomed it then and we welcome it now," she said.

However, she continued: "What is new really today is that they're really acknowledging that there are unaccompanied, vulnerable refugee children in Europe right now... We know there are 10,000s of children in that situation."

Caprani called on the UK government to clarify the rules around children with close family members in the country: "At the moment the process is far too slow."

She also said the new resources should help organizations like UNICEF to identify minors who may be eligible for relocation to Britain." It's going to make a difference. Additional resources are always helpful. We're absolutely welcoming this announcement."

Related: An Unaccompanied 15-Year-Old Dies in Attempts to Reach His Sister in the UK

On Wednesday, UK Prime Minister David Cameron came under fire for referring to those in the Calais and Dunkirk as a "bunch of migrants." 

His comments were made during a debate with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who visited migrant camps in France last weekend in a show of support on his first trip abroad since becoming Labour leader.

Various other attempts to change the policy towards unaccompanied refugee minors are still being deliberated. Labour peer Alf Dubs, who came to England as part of the Kindertransport program to escape the Nazis in 1939 has tabled an amendment to the UK's immigration bill that would allow an extra 3,000 children to be taken in "as soon as possible."

In a statement sent to VICE News, Sanj Srikanthan, Director of Policy and Practise for the International Rescue Committee, echoed the UNICEF response. "Any initiative by the UK government to scale up its commitments and offer protection to a greater number of vulnerable refugees is welcome," Srikanthan said. "We would like to see particular attention paid to the many thousands of unaccompanied young refugee children already in Europe, who have fled their homeland for sanctuary and are in need of immediate assistance.

Srikanthan called for plans to reunite refugee children from within Europe with family in the UK to be expedited. "The government should also ensure that young girls, who are particularly vulnerable when travelling alone, are urgently prioritized for resettlement," he said.

This comes as the Greek coast guard said that 18 people had died off the country's coast, including nine children — five boys and four girls.

Related: The UK Just Made a 'Ground-Breaking' Ruling on Refugee Children

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd

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