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EU plans tougher asylum rules

  • The latest Commission proposal aims at stopping migrants from moving across the Schengen area (Photo: UNICEF)

The European Commission plans to toughen asylum rules to deter claimants from travelling from one EU country to another.

The EU executive on Wednesday (13 July) proposed a set of new rules that would harmonise asylum procedures in the bloc in order to deal with the over 1.3 million asylum seekers who arrived to the continent in the last year.

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"We set clear obligations and duties for asylum seekers to prevent secondary movements and abuse of procedures," the commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, told press.

Asylum seekers who do not wait for their claims to be examined in the country where they first entered the EU or who do not cooperate with local authorities would have their claim automatically dropped, he said.

Last year, migrants, most of whom preferred Germany and Nordic countries, went through several EU countries before claiming asylum at their final destinations.

The commission said that streamlining asylum procedure rules in EU countries discourages migrants from cherry-picking from the various systems in the passport-free Schengen zone.

The five-year waiting period for refugees before they are eligible for long-term residency status would restart under the new bill if that person is found in a member state where they do not have the right to reside.

Asylum procedures would be shortened in some cases from between 10 days to two months if there is a probability that the asylum claim is not founded. A time limit for a first decision in normal cases would still remain six months.

"The length of procedures among member states is very diverse, these discrepancies is one of the incentives for secondary movement, asylum seekers go and apply in a member state, where they can expect a quick decision," said an EU official.

The commission suggested a systematic review of the status of refugees in case the danger from which they fled has ceased to exist when their residency permit comes up for renewal.

The proposal would standardise conditions at reception facilities, setting common rules on access to health care and education.

The plans would allow likely refugees to access the labour market faster: at the latest six months after the asylum application is lodged, and no later than three months if the claim is likely to be well-founded.

Asylum seekers would also have to be provided with legal assistance from the very beginning of the procedure by member states’ authorities.

The proposal must be agreed by member states and the European Parliament before becoming law.

Safe countries

The commission also hopes to agree on a common European list of safe third countries within five years.

For now, the executive encourages member states to take into account whether the asylum applicant arrived from a country that is designated as a safe third country, as then the applicant can be sent back.

It is yet another effort by the commission to prevent migrants moving around the EU or into the EU.

Hungary, as well as other EU countries, for example, has listed non-EU-member Serbia as a safe third country, allowing it to send asylum seekers back there, claiming they can lodge their application there.

EU countries will also be encouraged to follow guidelines from Easo, the EU's asylum agency, on the situation in countries that people are fleeing from.

The argument is that not every part of Afghanistan, for instance, is dangerous, so member states should examine where the asylum seeker is coming from exactly.

Harmonising resettlement

The commission is also proposing harmonised rules to resettle people from third countries.

Under the proposed resettlement framework, the EU executive will ask member states to make annual pledges on how many people they would be willing to resettle in that year.

The commission would propose the geographical scope and the total annual number based on member states' contributions, and then then member states would decide on their own annual pledges.

There would be no mandatory quota or distribution key, something that in previous proposals some EU countries have been reluctant to sign up to.

Member states would remain in charge on how many people they were willing to take in from third countries. They would also be responsible for picking the individuals in need of international protection.

There is no talk of sanctions against countries that do not commit to taking in people.

"We are not there yet [sanctions], we have a lot of things in mind, it is not the time to make an announcement yet, I believe all member states will comply with their obligations, and there will be no problem," Avramopoulos told press on Wednesday.

"Were not here to punish, we are here to persuade," he added.

The commission hopes a €10,000 financial contribution from the EU budget per resettled person would be sufficient as an incentive for countries to accept people.

EU countries last year pledged to resettle 22,000 people directly from troubled areas, such as Jordan and Lebanon, where million of refugees have been living for years.

So far 8,268 people have been resettled in EU countries under the scheme. In a separate programme under the EU-Turkey deal signed in March, member states have taken in 804 refugees directly from Turkey.

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