Between 2015 and 2017, an emergency redistribution mechanism of 160,000 people from Italy and Greece towards other European Member States was set up to mitigate difficulties in the management of asylum applications by the two first arrival countries (graph) [see also Relocation from Italy to the Netherlands]. The ‘EU Relocation Program’ was also launched as a response to two shipwrecks that occurred in the Mediterranean in April 2015, during which over 800 migrants lost their lives. The Relocation system lasted two years, from September 2015 to September 2017 (Article 78(3) of the TFEU), and had a strong symbolic significance because it represented a temporary derogation from the “responsibility principle” for the entry country established by the Dublin system.

The number of asylum seekers to be redistributed across EU Member States was calculated taking into account four parameters: i) the national GDP (40%); ii) the size of the population (40%), iii); the unemployment level (10%); and iv) the number of asylum-seekers already hosted (10%).

At the end of the program, which was postponed to the beginning of 2018, the total number of relocated people was well below the expected figure (graph). In order to understand the gap between envisaged and effective numbers at the end of the program, we must to take into account three aspects which the research has tried to bring to light by analysing secondary data but also by interviewing privileged actors operating within the EU scheme (IOM Den Haag- EASO, IOM).

Firstly, it is possible to highlight a geopolitical problem: some Member States prevented the program from being implemented, thereby not receiving the quota of allocated asylum seekers. These non-compliant countries were: the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

Secondly, as shown by the trend of transfers over time (graph), there was an initial difficulty in launching the program due to the novelty of the procedure between Member States. The need to set up the program in practice has, therefore, given rise to a process of slow implementation.

Thirdly, there was a clear problem related to the underlying approach of the Relocation scheme. According to the scheme, only those who belong to nationalities with an asylum recognition rate higher than 75% were entitled to participate in it. This clause considerably restricted the number of potential relocatable migrants (mainly Eritreans, Syrians and Iraqis).

Finally, given that migrants could not indicate any preference over the transfer state, many migrants decided not to enter the program; others – once arrived at the destination – made a secondary movement from the new State to follow their aspirations and plans.

Following the end of the program, relocations between Member States have continued on the basis of other agreements, often characterised by increasing tension between first entry states and other Member States.

On 23 September 2019, two years after the end of the program, Italy, Malta, Germany, France, and Finland discussed a new “Predictive temporary allocation programme”[1] in La Valetta (Malta). This new “relocation program” for asylum seekers, unlike the previous one, only concerns the signatory Member States and therefore excludes relocations from Greece and Spain, which in recent years have welcomed an increasing number of migrants arriving via irregular routes. During 2018-2019, it became evermore clear that tensions over the relocation system had increased over time, as shown by the ‘closed port policy’ initiated by Italy during the last government through the Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini (in office until 5 September 2019).


[1] The statement was signed by: Aditus Foundation, African Media Association, Blue Door English, Integra Foundation, Jesuit Refugee Service (Malta), Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Migrant Women Association, Moviment Graffitti, Office of the Dean, Faculty of Education, SOS Malta and Syrian Solidarity in Malta. Cfr. https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/rescue-ngo-calls-on-european-ministers-to-guarantee-safe-passage-to.736796.