9th Jul 2020

EU set to move towards common asylum rules

The European Commission has confirmed that next year it is to table a series of initiatives resulting in further harmonization of the bloc's 27 national asylum policies.

It has also named the governments currently failing to give sufficient assistance to asylum seekers.

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On Monday (26 November), the EU's executive body published a report on how the member states meet minimum EU standards for the reception of asylum seekers - something legally binding in all member states, except Denmark and Ireland, since 2003.

According to the findings, 13 member states have improved their national standards of assistance, but "serious problems" remain in a number of areas elsewhere.

Seven EU countries - Belgium, Cyprus, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK - do not apply a minimum set of rights to applicants held in detention centres, although EU rules do not allow such exemptions.

A number of member states is also failing to provide asylum seekers with a sufficient amount of information on further available assistance. Translation is a particular problem - while 34 languages are available in Austria, only three are available in Malta.

Similarly, wide differences exist between EU states when it comes to asylum seekers' attempts to obtain a work permit.

While some EU countries, such as Greece, allow access to the labour market immediately, others restrict it for a year and Lithuania does not provide for this possibility at all.

"Creating a level playing field in the area of reception conditions is a priority for the commission", EU home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini said in response to the shortcomings.

He also confirmed his ambition to further harmonize the rules on how asylum seekers should be treated in all 27 member states - something he believes could reduce secondary movements of applicants within the EU bloc, known in Brussels' jargon as "asylum shopping" and "refugees in orbit".

The overall number of asylum applications lodged on EU territory reached almost 182,000 in 2006, with some countries' facilities facing enormous pressure.

The UK, France, Sweden and Germany each annually deal with over 20,000 requests, although Sweden is the only country where the granting of refugee status or other protection 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).

"I intend to propose amendments to the 2003 directive in order to limit the discretion allowed", Mr Frattini said, making a specific reference to the level and form of reception conditions, access to employment, health care, free movement rights and identification and care of vulnerable persons.

Apart from that, he also plans to amend the Dublin regulation, a set of criteria designed to establish which member state is responsible for examining an asylum claim.

Currently, responsibility usually lies with the member state that played the greatest part in the applicant's entry into or residence on EU territory.

A specific outline leading to all those changes will be presented in July 2008, with Mr Frattini clearly stating he will not limit himself to amending existing legal tools, but also look for new instruments, which could bring a fairer and more effective system to deal with asylum seekers.

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