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Europe Is Now Proposing Rewriting Its Asylum Rules and Boosting Border Security

The EU may scrap the rules requiring refugees to apply for asylum in the first country in which they arrive — and register the fingerprints and face images of all non-EU nationals who enter.

by Reuters and VICE News
Apr 6 2016, 10:50am

Refugiados esperan en un campamento en Eslovenia el 29 de octubre de 2015. (Imagen por Antonio Bat/EPA)

The European Union's executive will lay out proposals on Wednesday to overhaul its asylum procedures and strengthen its external borders as it seeks to tackle both an uncontrolled influx of migrants and security threats.

A policy paper from the European Commission will outline two options regarding asylum rules, according to the Guardian. The first possibility would be scrapping the Dublin regulations, which require refugees to claim asylum in the first EU country they arrive in, in favor of a mandatory redistribution system throughout the bloc according to different states' wealth and capacity. The second option would be adding a "corrective fairness mechanism" to the rules which would allow refugees to be redistributed in different countries during times of crisis.

The mass influx of migrants and refugees over this year and last has exposed "significant structural weaknesses and shortcomings in the design and implementation of European asylum and migration policy," the paper will state, according to the Guardian.

The document will also highlight security threats to the EU, stating terror attacks in Paris and Brussels have "brought into sharper focus the need to join up and strengthen the EU's border management, migration, and security cooperation."

More than 160 people were killed in the November shooting and bombing attacks in Paris and suicide bombings in Brussels in March. The deadly strikes, claimed by Islamic State (IS), strengthened the hand of those campaigning for tighter security checks and data sharing against those who warn of the risks of abuse and undermining privacy through enhanced surveillance.

Related: A Million in 12 Months: Europe's Migration Crisis in Numbers

Rob Wainwright — chief of the EU's law enforcement agency, Europol —highlighted separately on Tuesday an "indirect link" between Europe's migration crisis, which saw more than 1 million people arriving over the last year, and the Islamist militant threat, saying some militants had used the chaotic migrant influx to sneak in.

EU border agency Frontex also said that two of the perpetrators of the November 13 attacks in Paris had entered through Greece and been registered by authorities there after presenting fraudulent Syrian documents.

"EU citizens are known to have crossed the external border to travel to (Middle East) conflict zones for terrorist purposes and pose a risk upon their return. There is evidence that terrorists have used routes of irregular migration to enter the EU," the commission said in its proposal.

But the EU has a dozen-or-so different sets of fragmented databases for border management and law enforcement that are plagued with gaps and often not inter-operable. Custom authorities' data are also held largely separate.

The commission on Wednesday will therefore set out technical proposals to beef them up and improve the way they communicate with one another, including a joint search interface.

Related: This Man Is Burying the Refugees Who Die Before They Make It to Lesbos

Although not a new idea in general, doing this requires complex measures that pose a host of technical and legal challenges in balancing the need for data and privacy protection with enhanced security.

The commission also revised a proposal, first made in 2013, for an "Entry-Exit" system for third-country nationals arriving in the EU to "reduce irregular migration by addressing the phenomenon of overstaying and contribute to the fight against terrorism and serious crime."

Under the outline, the new system would be implemented by 2020 to register the data of non-EU nationals arriving from outside the bloc, including four fingerprints and a face image.

Scores of Europeans have ventured out to join the ranks of IS and some have come back to the 28-nation EU, including those involved in the Paris attacks.

That has stirred discussion on the need to also tighten controls of EU citizens on external borders, but this angle was not included in the commission's document on Wednesday.

Also mentioned was the so-called PNR — an EU deal on sharing detailed air passenger data that has seen months of wrangling. The commission said it should be adopted "in the coming weeks" and is crucial in efforts to increase security.

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