Wednesday

24th Jan 2018

EU to fast-track asylum returns to Western Balkans

  • Some 38,000 asylum applicants from Kosovo were lodged in the EU last year (Photo: Council of Europe)

Interior ministers on Monday (20 July) are set to designate the Western Balkans as countries where asylum seekers can be quickly returned.

The proposal is part of a larger plan to create an EU-wide country of safe origin list.

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Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia, and the UK already have their own designated national lists.

But there are big differences over what countries are on the list, what criteria are used to define a safe-origin country and how they are applied on practice.

In a letter addressed to interior ministers last week, EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said an EU-wide concept would help “accelerate the treatment of asylum applications”.

The letter comes as statistics show that more people of Balkan origin applied for asylum at the start of the year than people from war-torn Syria.

Some 48,900 applications were lodged by Kosovo nationals in the first three months of 2015, compared to around 29,100 Syrians during the same period. That trend is now reversing.

The chances of a Balkan national getting asylum anywhere in the EU are extremely low.

Of the 10,300 asylum applications from Macedonia last year, less than one percent had a positive recognition rate.

All five other Balkan countries rank in the top ten lowest recognition rates ranging from less than one percent (Macedonia) to just over seven percent (Albania).

Yet the Balkans represented the largest portion of the overall number of applications for international protection lodged in the EU between 2009 and 2013.

The criteria used to determine a safe country of origin differs from member state to member state.

The UK has listed 25 countries as countries of safe origin, more than any other member state.

Under UK law, a safe country of origin is simply defined as the absence of persecution.

Others, like Belgium and Germany, have many more criteria.

They say a safe country must have, among other criteria, a stable democratic political system governed by law, have ratified and complied with international treaties on human rights and fundamental freedoms, and not engage in serious violations of human rights like torture.

France, for its part, has similar other standards but does not include torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment among them.

Draft council conclusions seen by this website note that the low recognition rates in the Balkans means they are safe.

But Amnesty International has documented wide-spread abuse and ill-treatment of Syrian and Afghan refugees passing through the Balkans.

“Serbia and Macedonia have become a sink for the overflow of refugees and migrants that nobody in the EU seems willing to receive", said the NGO earlier this month.

There is also a problem of repeat applications.

More than a third of the demands from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia are from people who have already applied at least once in the past.

Over 80 percent end up in Germany, followed by France and Sweden.

The largest number of applicants came from Kosovo (37,895). Of those, just over six percent were recognised.

Serbians lodged almost 31,000 applications last year with a less than two percent recognition rate.

Montenegro applicants (1,845) hovered around at a three percent recognition rate while people from Bosnia and Herzegovina (10,705) had around 4.6 percent chance.

Albanians have the best chance at 7.3 percent. Around 16,825 Albanians applied last year.

EU states fall short on asylum targets

EU states Monday fell short on pledges to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers and had to rely on non-EU states to hit a separate 20,000 target for resettling refugees.

Facebook promises privacy reboot ahead of new EU rules

Speaking in Brussels, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, says the social media giant has "not done enough to stop the abuse of our technology." Her admission comes with new plans to wrestle with "bad content".

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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