7th Jul 2020

Brussels to push EU states on asylum burden-sharing

  • War-torn Iraq creates most of the asylum seekers arriving in the EU these days (Photo: Wikipedia)

Brussels is set to kick off lengthy legislative efforts which could see EU states sharing the asylum seeker burden more equally, after 182,000 people sought refuge in the 27-nation bloc last year - with gulf wide differences in terms of pressure on individual EU countries.

On Wednesday (6 June) EU home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini will table a proposal, the goal of which is "to achieve a higher common standard of protection and greater equality in protection across the EU as well as to ensure a higher degree of solidarity between EU member states."

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The paper – seen by EUobserver – indicates that a more balanced distribution is needed of those who are granted protected status.

"There is a pressing need for increased solidarity…so as to ensure that responsibility for processing asylum applications and granting protection in the EU is shared equitably," Mr Frattini argues, adding "intra-EU resettlement is an important path to pursue."

The overall number of asylum applications lodged on EU territory has halved since 2002, but some countries' facilities continue to face enormous pressure.

The UK, France, Sweden and Germany each annually deal with over 20,000 requests, although Sweden is the only one where granting refugee status or other protection actually outnumbers the amount of those rejected.

At the bottom of the same scale are the three Baltic countries - Estonia with just five asylum applications last year, Latvia (10) and Lithuania (150).

Currently, the EU's only tool dealing with the intra-EU transfer of asylum seekers is the Dublin system - a set of criteria designed to establish which member state is responsible for examining an asylum claim. Under the scheme, responsibility usually lies with the member state which played the greatest part in the applicant's entry into or residence on EU territory.

However, the Dublin system may de facto result in an additional burden on those member states that find themselves under strong migratory pressure due to their geographical location.

Then Frattini text asks EU governments if the Dublin system should be complemented by measures enhancing fairer burden-sharing.

EU-wide asylum rules

At the same time, the EU justice commissioner is set to seek support for further harmonization of rules on how asylum seekers should be treated in all 27 member states. The move is expected to reduce secondary movements of asylum seekers within the EU bloc – something known in Brussels' jargon as "asylum shopping" and "refugees in orbit."

"No matter where he arrives, a refugee must gain the same protection," an EU official said, citing an example of a Chechen having a higher chance of being granted refugee status in Austria compared to Poland.

According to the commission document, further harmonization should apply to all stages of the asylum process - starting from the moment a person seeks protection in an EU country until the moment a durable solution is found.

For example, there are wide differences between EU states when it comes to asylum seekers' attempts to obtain a work permit. While some EU capitals allow access to the labour market immediately, others restrict it for a year.

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