France pushes EU states to share asylum seeker load

Plan calls on 19 Schengen zone countries to commit to taking in asylum seekers from under-pressure States such as Greece, Italy and Malta.

France pushes EU states to share asylum seeker load
(Photo: Alain Jocard / AFP)

France is seeking to push the EU towards a long-stalled asylum pact with a plan to relocate some 10,000 asylum seekers to willing member states – and for unwilling ones to pay up instead.

The proposition, presented in the final weeks of France’s turn holding the European Union presidency, aims to unblock the thorny file with an incremental approach.

Instead of attempting to bulldoze through opposition from several, mostly eastern, member states to an overhaul of the bloc’s asylum rules, the plan calls for a “voluntary solidarity mechanism” on a 12-month test basis, according to a French document seen by AFP.

Presented on Friday to an EU interior ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg, it foresees the 19 states in the EU’s Schengen zone committing to taking in asylum seekers from under-pressure countries such as Greece, Italy and Malta.

Those that won’t take any in would provide financial contributions to help those that do.

EU diplomats said the non-binding measure would involve 10,000 asylum seekers per year, with the possibility of the plan being renewed annually.

“A big majority of countries have shown themselves favourable to this solidarity, and some dozen countries are favourable to relocalisations, which is very positive,” French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said as he went in to chair the meeting.

He said France and Germany were among that dozen.

As the talks got under way, Darmanin tweeted there had been a “major advance” and that a large majority of member states would back the plan.

Countries opposed
The EU commissioner for migration, Ylva Johansson, said she saw the step as an important move after spending many months in a failed bid to have member states adopt a broader asylum reform proposal unveiled in September 2020.

It also came at a time that Europe was hosting more than four million Ukrainian refugees, who do not come under the asylum rules applied to other nationalities such as Syrians and Afghans, she noted.

“All countries are affected by the Ukrainian refugee crisis. But then we also have other refugees and migrants coming, and we need solidarity for that,” she said.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said she believed “10 to 12 countries” were behind the plan, which she was “pretty confident” would be adopted.

But her Austrian counterpart, Gerhard Karner, signalled strong opposition, saying: “I am absolutely against sending the wrong signal to people smugglers.”

The Netherlands has already said it will not take in asylum seekers under the proposal, though a diplomat said it might contribute in other ways.

Other countries such as Hungary and Poland have long resisted any compulsory migrant relocation scheme.

The French proposal stresses the identification of asylum seekers entering the bloc has been enhanced with enlarged use of Eurodac, a biometric database, and a new entry filtering system.

It also aims to minimise so-called secondary movements, where asylum seekers move on from the country where they are processed to another, often wealthier EU state, such as Germany or France.

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French military bans Russians from chateau over Ukraine war

The French military has banned Russian nationals from visiting the Chateau de Vincennes, a medieval fortress, tourist attraction and military site on the edge of Paris, due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, officials told AFP.

French military bans Russians from chateau over Ukraine war

Once the residence of French kings and among Europe’s best-preserved monuments of its kind, the castle is for the most part open to the public, including for tours, concerts, theatre plays and other events.

But although best-known as a tourist attraction it is also technically a military site, housing part of the French armed forces’ historical archives, to which access is restricted.

The mounted Garde republicaine – a division of the French military – are also partially based at the chateaux.

It is therefore covered by a French ban on Russian nationals entering army territory that was issued after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Each year some 150,000 people visit the chateau, paying €9.50 per adult admission.

But on July 28th, two Russian women were refused access.

“A guard at the metal detector asked to see my passport,” said one of the women, 31, who works as a journalist and has been in France for five months, having left Russia “because of the war”.

On inspecting the document, the guard informed her she couldn’t pass, the woman, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

Another guard also denied her entry and gave as the reason “because you are Russian”, she said, adding she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

Contacted by AFP, the defence ministry confirmed late Monday that it had, indeed, “restricted access to military installations to Russian nationals” because of the invasion.

But after media coverage and social media comment, the ministry contacted AFP on Tuesday to say that the guards had in fact “indiscriminately applied a rule established in February concerning all military installations”.

“This rule cannot be applied in the same way for strategic sites and for sites accessible to the public, such as museums,” a spokesman said.

The ministry said security staff would now be informed of the distinction “to avoid any further incidents of this kind”.

Russian journalists could, however, apply for an exemption, a ministry official added.

The majority of France’s most popular tourist sites have no military function and would not be affected by the ban. 

Since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine in February, France has taken in some 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, government figures show.

About 73,500 Russian immigrants lived in France in 2021, according to the national statistics office Insee.

There has been debate within the European Union about whether further limits should be placed on Russians visiting the bloc for tourism or personal reasons.

Russia’s neighbour Finland last week issued a plan to limit tourist visas  for Russians but also emphasised the need for an EU-level decision on the matter.