Sunday

21st Jan 2018

Restrictions on child asylum seekers may be lifted

  • Unaccompanied children should not face asylum application restrictions, say MEPs (Photo: DVIDSHUB)

MEPs in the civil liberties committee want children who arrive in Europe after fleeing conflict to apply for asylum in the country that best suits their needs.

The proposal, first floated years ago but rejected by national governments, was re-introduced on Wednesday (6 May) by Swedish liberal Cecilia Wikstrom.

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Deputies backed her amendment to tweak the EU’s 'Dublin regulation' so that the rights and interest of the child supersede its controversial point-of-entry rules.

“This is the end of the story. We are no longer sending children from one country to another like parcels. Those days are over. We are on our way to building a humanitarian union,” Wikstrom told this website.

Some children who arrive may have relatives in one member state but are unable to apply for asylum there because of the current rules, which say that the first EU country a person enters has to process the asylum request.

The new proposal means the member state where the minor is present should be responsible for processing the asylum application unless an individual assessment shows that it would be in the best interest of the child to go to another country.

“This is only about one article and a small formulation in the article but it has huge political consequences because we are exempting children from the whole Dublin process,” said Wikstrom.

It still needs the support of member states. But resistance by national governments will be complicated by a ruling on unaccompanied minors by the European Court of Justice.

In June 2013, the Luxembourg-based court said a minor could apply for asylum in any member state where a relative is based.

But the Swedish lawmaker still expects difficult talks with member states.

“I think it is going to be tough negotiations in triologues (behind-the-scenes negotiating on EU laws) that I will open as soon as possible,” she said.

What is the Dublin rule?

First signed in Dublin, on 15 June 1990, the rule set up a convention that was implemented years later in 1997.

The convention meant that the country through which asylum seekers first entered the EU had to to handle applications for asylum on behalf of all other member states.

At the time it only applied to Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Austria, Finland, and Sweden joined shortly afterwards as did Norway and Iceland.

Problems quickly began to emerge.

Julia Zelvinksa, a senior legal officer at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), says the convention was essentially unworkable because of the difficulty of providing strong evidence of irregular entry into a member state.

The convention also did not include applications for humanitarian protection and conditions for family reunification were strictly defined.

Dublin II and Dublin III

The Dublin Regulation was adopted on 18 February 2003. Also known as Dublin II, it too ran into problems for being ineffective and inefficient.

The commission then decided to revamp the EU-wide rules and proposed a new version December 2008. It took five years before it passed into law.

The main difference between II and III is that the latest version extends to persons who apply for subsidiary protection.

Procedural rights like rights to information, personal interviews, risk assessment criteria, detention criteria were also improved in favour of the asylum seekers.

What is the problem now?

“The main reason why it doesn’t work is because the protection provided to asylum seekers in the EU member states and associated countries is very different,” says Zelvinksa.

In other words, the EU is dealing with the same issues that arose some 25 years ago.

Today, six member states currently accept around 80 percent of all asylum applications.

Issues of relocation and resettlement are politically toxic. Relocation entails distributing migrants already in the EU to other member states. Resettlement involves taking in refugees from outside the EU.

EU leaders at an emergency summit on migration in Brussels late last month largely ignored both points.

EU rescue mission yet to receive extra cash or boats

Plans for more money and boats to expand the EU’s surveillance mission Triton in the Mediterranean have yet to be realised as migrants continue to attempt to make the perilous sea journey.

Rights NGOs face fresh threats in EU

While ongoing crackdowns in Poland and Hungary have put the spotlight on rights groups, NGOs are now under new political and financial pressure across the EU, the Fundamental Rights Agency said.

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