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21st Feb 2024

Austria-UK deal to offshore asylum not possible, says EU

  • The EU Commission has thrown a spanner in the works of any Austrian plan to offshore asylum, following Vienna's agreement last week with the UK (Photo: © BMI/Schober)
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Austrian plans to offshore asylum to Rwanda or any third country, via an agreement with the UK, is not possible under EU law, says the European Commission.

"Currently EU asylum law applies only to applications made on the territory of a member state but not outside," a commission spokesperson told reporters in Brussels on Monday (6 November), when pressed on the issue.

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That statement follows an agreement signed last week between the UK's home secretary Suella Braverman and her Austrian counterpart Gerhard Karner to deepen cooperation on migration and security.

The deal with the UK marks a first for an EU member state, and comes despite Austria seeing a 40-percent drop in asylum claims.

The Austrian offshoring means people deported to an African country would be allowed to return to Austria if their asylum claims are successful — while others would be deported to their countries from the African state.

In a joint statement following the meeting, Karner said that the UK had "a lot of experience, when it comes to processing asylum applications outside of Europe in the future".

He said that Vienna would "continue to make [a] consistent effort for the EU commission to advance and enable such procedures outside of Europe."

Although stalled, he also praised EU member state Denmark for making a similar effort to offshore asylum to Rwanda.

But the UK's Rwanda scheme has also faced legal challenges after its initial announcement more than a year ago by the British conservative government.

Such plans risks violating rights that protect against degrading treatment under the European convention of human rights (ECHR).

And in June, a UK court ruled it unlawful to send asylum seekers to Rwanda to have their claims processed, noting that there is a real risk that people would be returned to their home countries.

The UK's Supreme Court is now set to rule on the legality of the proposal sometime next month. If deemed legal, deportations from the UK could start the following February.

The £140m offshoring plan is part of a wider UK push to stop people from taking small boats from France, sparking intense scrutiny by rights defenders.

Germany's ruling Social Democrats eyes offshore ideas

But the Austrian overture towards the UK deal with Rwanda also comes as EU member states continue to grapple with a fractured and dysfunctional asylum system.

Among them is Germany, where politicians, including the ruling Social Democrats (SPD), no longer oppose outright ideas to offshore asylum to Africa.

SPD chair Lars Klingbeil in an interview with German TV station ZDF said that such ideas should not be taken off the table.

He said the government is currently trying to settle agreements with several African states.

"If that ultimately means that asylum procedures can be carried out there, then I think you have to consider whether you should go this route," he is quoted as saying.

Germany has been warming up to the idea for months.

In February, Germany's special commissioner for migration Joachim Stamp, from the neoliberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) in the three-way governing coalition, spoke out in favour of sending applicants outside the EU to have their claims processed.

Civil organisations and advocacy groups have blasted such as ideas as unworkable.

German plan to offshore asylum 'unworkable' declare NGOs

German ideas of possibly offshoring asylum to countries outside Europe are unworkable, say civil society. The comments follow reports that the German government is exploring options of getting north African states to process asylum claims of those rescued at sea.

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