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E.U. Offers Cash and More Deportations in New Plan for Migrants

BRUSSELS — The European Union on Wednesday unveiled a new attempt to cajole reluctant member nations into participating in a common system for handling asylum seekers, offering them both cash incentives to take in refugees and quicker deportation of people who are denied asylum.

The proposal by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, would end the quotas adopted five years ago that set the number of refugees each country should accept — quotas that some countries, like Hungary, have simply ignored without penalty.

The commission would replace that system with one it hopes would win the cooperation of all 27 member states, but it omitted crucial details about how the new arrangement would work. It did not make clear, for example, what penalties, if any, there would be for any E.U. countries that refuse to take part.

It would also continue to place a large burden on Greece, Italy and Spain — countries at Europe’s southern edge, where undocumented migrants most often arrive on the continent. Those countries have chafed at taking the lead in processing asylum applications, which can take more than a year, and at hosting thousands of migrants until they are either granted asylum or deported.

The European Commission plan would offer countries like Denmark, Austria, Poland and Hungary 10,000 euros, about $11,700, for each refugee they accept, ostensibly to cover early costs of travel and housing. It also invites countries in the bloc to assist in the long, cumbersome process of trying to send rejected asylum seekers back to their home countries.

It is not yet clear whether the proposal — laid out in more than 500 pages of documents released on Wednesday, and touching on more than a dozen pieces of E.U. legislation — will survive the labyrinthine approval process, and if so, how the blanks will be filled in. Officials hope a version of it will be agreed to next year.

“The package reflects the complexity of the issue and brings together all aspects of migration border management, screening, asylum, integration, return, and relations with external partners,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the commission president. “It is not a question whether member states should support with solidarity and contributions, but how they should support.”

The plan comes five years after the refugee crisis brought one million people to Europe’s shores, primarily people fleeing the war in Syria, creating a humanitarian disaster and fueling a rise in anti-immigrant politics across Europe. The numbers of people reaching Europe have since plummeted, with about 140,000 requesting asylum last year, but elements of the crisis have persisted.

Migrants still risk — and sometimes lose — their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean in small boats. And there are still squalid, overcrowded migrant camps on Greek islands, housing tens of thousands of people.

After the largest of the camps, on the island of Lesbos, burned to the ground this month, leaving 12,600 asylum seekers homeless, E.U. leaders promised that such conditions would never again be created. Yet even under the new policy, the prospects for shrinking the camps remain uncertain.

The commission’s plan proposes to speed the handling of people from countries whose migrants win asylum less than 20 percent of the time. It calls for screening, registering and sorting them within five days, fast-tracking deportation of those who are denied asylum, and giving them just 12 weeks to appeal a denial.

But that change excludes most asylum seekers, like those from Afghanistan and Syria, whose compatriots have much higher success rates in winning asylum. It is also not clear how the handling would become any faster. The European Union already deploys hundreds of its own staff in Greece and other countries that are entry points to help with these processes, yet asylum decisions often take longer than a year.

Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for Migration, said at a news conference in Brussels on Wednesday that asylum seekers “have the same rights for their application to be processed in a proper and fair way, but it has to be done very quickly.” She added: “This is an important message that you will be returned if you come to the E.U. and you don’t have the right to stay.”

But when the bloc tries to deport asylum seekers, it usually can’t, because the migrants’ home countries refuse to take them back — a fact that no E.U. legislation can change. Only one-third of rejected applicants actually return, the commission said, contributing to overcrowded camps and leaving people in legal limbo for years.

The commission said it would hold talks with some 20 countries in Asia and Africa that are the main sources of asylum seekers going to Europe, to get them to accept their nationals back.

“It’s very unlikely that these ‘quick procedures’ will actually be quick,” said Judith Sunderland, deputy director for Europe with Human Rights Watch. “It’s hard to see how this won’t lead to mass incarceration for lengthy periods of time followed by a realization that they can’t deport everyone they want to deport.”

Another element of the E.U. proposal would allow member nations to “sponsor” the deportation of migrants — an attempt to encourage all members to contribute to the new system.

The idea is that such a country would aid in the cumbersome process of deporting a failed asylum seeker who is living elsewhere in Europe. If the person was not repatriated within eight months, the sponsoring country would take in the migrant.

“Return sponsorships are interesting and might attract some countries, but if Greece didn’t manage to send someone back, would say, Hungary be responsible for them down the line?” asked Steve Peers, a professor of E.U. law at the University of Essex in England.

There was no indication in the plan as to what would motivate the countries, like Hungary, that have pushed back hardest against migration, to agree to play the role of sponsor, shouldering both the bureaucratic burden and the chance of being told to accept the migrant.

“It was a daring but also brave step from the Commission to incorporate some of the position of the member states, not wanting to take in any refugees,” said Hanne Beirens, director at the Brussels-based Migration Policy Institute Europe. “But at the same time they’ve moved in such a significant manner that, if this fails, what is the alternative? It will be different groups of member states doing things on their own,” she added.

Monika Pronczuk contributed reporting.

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