162. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which she and her European Union colleagues remain committed to a common policy to cater for the increasing number of refugees arriving on the southern and eastern shores of Europe, with particular reference to the need to ensure that a fair and comprehensive policy is adopted, and that all European Union member states co-operate is seeking a resolution to this issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28346/15]


Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The EU migration crisis continues to be given the highest priority at EU level. The latest figures from FRONTEX indicate that over 700,000 illegal border crossings have taken place this year though the Eastern and Central Mediterranean and Western Balkans routes. We have all seen what this means for the lives of the people involved. In response to the escalating crisis the European Council first met in April 2015 to set out broad guidelines on the immediate steps necessary to respond to the situation. The EU Commission brought forward proposals for implementation of a package of measures under the European Agenda on Migration in May. This package of measures included a proposal for relocation (to alleviate pressure on the frontline States of Italy and Greece) as well as a recommendation on resettlement, proposals to strengthen FRONTEX operations in the Mediterranean, Common Security Defence Policy (CSDP) mission and broader strategy to tackle the criminal dimension of the smuggling networks, enhanced cooperation with third countries and humanitarian and developmental aid to address the root causes.
The European Council met again in June where the main discussion point was the Commission’s relocation proposals. Overall the Council endorsed a three-stranded comprehensive approach to migration based on the principles of solidarity and responsibility. The first strand relates to resettlement and relocation of refugees and asylum seekers as an expression of solidarity. The second strand involves a return and readmission policy involving safe countries of origin, whereby migrants who have entered the EU illegally are returned to their country. The third element relates to improved management of borders and enhanced cooperation with third countries .
In July the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council agreed in principle to relocate, on a temporary and exceptional basis, up to 40,000 persons from Italy and Greece over two years and this proposal was adopted at the JHA Council on 14 September.
A second implementation package was published by the European Commission in September. The principal proposals were to amend the Dublin Regulation to provide for a permanent relocation mechanism; a further temporary relocation proposal (bringing the total number of persons being relocated over the next two years to 160,000) and a proposal to amend the Asylum Procedures Directive to establish a list of safe countries of origin. Other aspects of the package looked at the external dimension, including a Communication on this topic and the proposal for an EU Trust Fund for Africa, with a budget of €1.8 billion of EU funding.
A further two extraordinary JHA Councils were held on 14 th and 22 nd September with agreement reached on the emergency relocation measures of a further 120,000 persons by Qualified Majority Vote (QMV). To take account of the rapidly evolving situation, 66,000 places will be allocated initially for relocation from Greece and Italy with an option to relocate the balance of 54,000 from other Member States as they come under pressure. In contrast to the position adopted on the first relocation proposal the distribution among Member States under the later proposal is mandatory.
Following the Extraordinary JHA Council, the European Council met in an informal configuration on 23 September to discuss the migration crisis again. The meeting reaffirmed the important principles underpinning EU mobility, including; the Schengen Acquis and Dublin Convention. The Council also agreed to pledge €1 billion to support refugees displaced within the region; to increase dialogue and cooperation with key transit countries such as Turkey and the Western Balkan countries and to provide additional resources for the EU agencies engaged with the crisis – FRONTEX, EASO and Europol.
I am committed to continue to work with my EU colleagues to find solutions to this crisis. Ireland has already made a significant contribution to the EU-wide response and has now formally opted into the two emergency EU relocation measures following approval by both Houses of the Oireachtas on 1 st October. These measures form part of the Government overall response when on 10 th September it approved the Irish Refugee Protection Programme and agreed to accept up to 4,000 persons under the European programmes for resettlement and relocation.
Ireland has also contributed to search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean, via a bilateral agreement with the Italian Navy. The LE Eithne and LE Niamh have previously been deployed to the Mediterranean, and the LE Samuel Beckett replaced the LE Niamh at the end of September.
Ireland has also provided supports to areas particularly affected by instability and conflict. By the end of 2015, a total of €41 million will have been provided towards assisting those displaced as a result of the Syrian crisis, including through participation in a Regional Development and Protection Programme in the Middle East.