26th Jun 2017

MEPs back asylum rules overhaul

  • Hundreds of thousands of people flee their home countries each year to seek asylum elsewhere (Photo:

The European Parliament approved a series of proposals on Thursday (7 May) revising current EU asylum rules and introduced a 'solidarity clause' in order to assist member states that claim to be overburdened by asylum seeker demands.

"Our duty is to treat European Union citizens and asylum-seekers on an equal footing. It is a duty of the member states to make sure these people can come to the European Union and that they are guaranteed proper reception and living conditions," said Italian leftist MEP Giusto Catania.

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The European Commission in December presented the asylum package that introduced changes to European legislation setting minimal standards at the point of arrival of asylum seekers on EU soil.

The package is also aimed at fighting arbitrary detention of asylum seekers and at making their access to member-state labour markets easier, notably by allowing them to work a maximum of six months after filing their request for asylum.

It changes rules defining which member state should deal with an asylum seeker's demands and alters a regulation covering the transfer of data about asylum seekers.

Currently, the so-called Dublin Regulation stipulates that the first EU member state that a migrant enters should be the one to examine his or her asylum application.

But the proposal backed by MEPs contains a provision under which asylum seekers should not be sent to member states that cannot offer them appropriate reception conditions and asylum procedure access.

It also boosts the asylum seekers' rights and introduces deadlines to make procedures quicker.

Welcoming the parliament's backing for the new rules, EU justice commissioner Jacques Barrot told MEPs: "We really need the European parliament to make [people] accept this asylum policy, which is a policy that is in compliance with our European values and which can indeed sometimes spark fears, criticism although all this is part of the humanitarian spirit and the humanitarian tradition of our continent."

Solidarity among member states

Under an amendment introduced by the parliament, a "solidarity" clause has been added to the package that would see member states taking in asylum seekers from those states that say they are overburdened. In addition, teams of national experts would be formed to assist those countries receiving a larger number of asylum applications, notably Malta, Italy and Greece.

Malta – a small island state of some 400,000 people in the Mediterranean Sea – has been facing particular difficulties in this respect, with many African migrants aiming to reach the EU by boat arriving on its soil.

More than half the 67,000 migrants who reached European Union nations by sea last year came ashore in Malta and Italy, according to United Nations figures.

"I know that what we have adopted today is resisted by some countries ... But it is time for them to realise that they can no longer expect just a couple of countries to shoulder a responsibility that belongs to all," Maltese Conservative MEP Simon Busuttil was quoted as saying by the Times of Malta.

"They can no longer express shock when boatloads of immigrants drift at sea but then turn a blind eye when it comes to hosting the immigrants who are saved," he added.

A proposal to set up a European Asylum Support Office that would allow member states to exchange information on countries beyond the EU and would help to training of staff involved in asylum issues was also approved.

According to data from the European commission, more than 220,000 asylum applications were lodged in the EU in 2007, mostly coming from Iraq, Russia, Turkey, Somalia, Iran and Serbia.

As of the end of 2007, worldwide there were more than 11 million people who had fled their home countries seeking asylum elsewhere.

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