EU commissioner: Europe has no new plans for refugee redistribution quotas

Photo: ERR

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson visited Tallinn on Monday and gave an interview to ERR's "Välisilm" current affairs show where she discussed the war in Ukraine and how Europe is handling refugees.

Presenter Johannes Tralla: We've witnessed the most severe crisis after the Second World War, what should Europe be ready for?

Ylva Johansson: Unfortunately, we have to be ready for a still deteriorating situation. We see no signs that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will slow down his war in Ukraine, so we have to be prepared for further sanctions, to still be very firm towards Putin and to support Ukraine but also to welcome even more Ukrainian refugees?

More than three million refugees have arrived so far, how many should we be ready to receive?

It is very difficult to predict but we have around six million people internally displaced in Ukraine right now, so I think we need to be prepared for millions more to come.

What is the preparedness of EU states currently to accept refugees?

I must say I am very impressed by how the people of Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, but also the Czech Republic, Estonia has welcomed these refugees in a very unprecedented way, showing solidarity, local authorities, regional authorities, NGOs, volunteers, governments.

We really see now that the EU member states are welcoming people in a way that we have never seen before. It used to be, to give some examples, the number of people that have come to Poland in less than four weeks is more refugees than the whole EU received in 2015-2016, in two years.

Eastern European countries that only a few years ago formed an alliance to stand against the resettlement of refugees in the EU and now facing immense pressure because of the solidarity they refused, it is quite a reminder of short-sited politics, wouldn't you say?

Well, I would put it like this, we are in a situation where solidarity is of the essence, we see solidarity from the citizens of the neighboring countries, we see solidarity from the governments, now we also need solidarity between member states and we also see that stepping-up.

I see what you are searching for, but let me put it like this - when I was tasked by Ursula von der Leyen, with this portfolio of security and migration i was also tasked to unblock the previously blocked political situation when it comes to migration, to find a fresh start and to rebuild trust.

This is what I have been working on for two-and-a-half years. and my assessment is that we are in a much, much better situation today than we were in 2015. I think all member states have learned a lesson and we have restarted this rebuilding of trust. I think that Putin is disappointed now because he thought migration could divide us and we have shown a unity that we have never seen before.

We managed to activate a temporary protective directive that has existed for 20 years and has never been used. We took the decision in a few days to activate it in a unanimous decision at the council of the minister of the interiors so we are also showing that we have learned a lesson and are much better prepared to cooperate to deal with migration today.

Do you see a longterm change in European asylum policies or is it just that we have witnessed a shock and now member states that were very reluctant in accepting migrants are simply overwhelmed by them or will these attitudes towards migrants change in the future?

Yes, I think we are seeing a convergence between member states and we have seen that in two years, of coming closer to each other, of being more ready to discuss, to negotiate and find a compromise.

And of course, right now there is the acute crisis that we need to deal with and Europe needs to be there and Europe needs to help, and not only to help the Ukrainians but also each other to deal with this situation.

There is very little room for drama queens here, we need a sober approach to managing migration properly together.

I don't want to be a drama queen, but before Hungary opened its borders to Ukrainians fleeing war it had built long fences to prevent refugees from the middle east and Afghanistan from entering, so how would you describe this other than double standards?

But we also saw just a few months ago in August and September, all 27 member states welcome 20,000 Afghan refugees in an orderly way. Evacuating them, not only those that had been working for member states or our common EU institution but also others who would have been at acute risk if they had stayed in Afghanistan.

So actually, we can see solidarity from all member states.

What are the tools that the commission has to relocate refugees in Europe? You're taking the same old toolbox that was never agreed during the last refugee crisis and you're trying to put it in play now - or do you have other means?

That is not really true, what we have established now is the solidarity platform, we meet twice a week where member states and the commission discuss things together where member states pledge where people can come, where there are reception capacities available and other member states say what needs they have.

So, really, this is a new way of doing it without mandatory quotas and instead of working together within the solidarity platform and this is what we need to develop even further.

On Monday we are going to have a new extraordinary council with the minister of interior and I expect this to be discussed further then.

Voluntary quotas when millions [of people] are arriving... I mean, do you actually think it will work?

I think really what we are seeing now, is unprecedented solidarity from the EU member states, from the EU citizens, towards Ukrainian refugees. We have never been in such a crisis since the Second World War, as you rightly said at the start, so of course, this is really a challenge so the best way to deal with big challenges is to cooperate and work together.

But not only in the European Union, we also need to reach out and work together with third countries that are ready, that asked, to be part of the solution and to welcome Ukrainian refugees - like Canada, the U.S.A and UK.

And there is an appetite to receive refugees from Poland, from the Baltic states, let's say in Italy or in Greece who really suffered a great crisis when the Eastern European members said our quotas are zero? Now they want to help us?

Yes, they will.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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