2nd Dec 2023

EU seeks better rights for asylum seekers

EU countries should take better care of people who arrive seeking asylum, the European Commission said on Wednesday (3 December), unveiling a series of proposals aiming at making the current EU asylum rules better.

In order to put asylum seekers "at the heart of a humane and fair procedure," the EU needs to ensure "higher standards of protection," EU justice commissioner Jacques Barrot said when presenting the package.

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  • More than 222,000 asylum applications were lodged within the EU last year. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The plan includes amendments to European legislation that sets minimal standards at the point of arrival of asylum seekers on EU soil. It also seeks to change rules defining which member state should deal with an asylum seeker's demands, and an alteration of a regulation covering the transfer of data about asylum seekers.

Brussels plans aim to make sure that detention of asylum seekers is used "only in exceptional cases" and to avoid arbitrary detention; to improve conditions for vulnerable persons – such as victims of torture, the aged or disabled people; and to make access to member states' labour markets easier for asylum seekers.

Instead of having to wait for one year before being granted the right to work in a member state, asylum seekers will be allowed to do so a maximum six months after filing their request for asylum.

Additionally, EU countries will have to ensure "an adequate level of material reception conditions," including pocket money for asylum seekers, although exact amounts have not been set, Mr Barrot specified.

Changes to the Dublin Regulation

Brussels is also proposing a revision of the so-called Dublin Regulation, according to which, the first EU member state that a migrant enters should be the one to examine his or her asylum application.

The EU executive suggests asylum seekers should not be sent to member states that cannot offer them appropriate reception conditions and asylum procedure access, and establishes a mechanism of suspension of transfers to and from a certain member state for six to 12 months.

EU member Greece in particular has received sharp criticism in this regard, both from the United Nations and human rights NGOs such as Amnesty International. A Swedish migration court refused the extradition of an Iraqi asylum-seeker to the country earlier this year out of concern at Greek conditions.

Brussels is also hoping to introduce additional guarantees for the right of an asylum seeker to appeal against transfer decisions.

"There is a big difference from member state to member state" regarding the number of asylum applications they receive, with Sweden, France, the UK and Greece topping the list.

"This is injustice, because the burden on certain member states is considerably different," Mr Barrot told journalists, adding that it is even more unfair to applicants, as they have more chance of receiving approval in certain member states than in others.

Cautious welcome of the commission's proposals

Brussels' set of proposals has received a cautious welcome from human rights NGOs.

The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) called them "a promising start," notably certain elements such as earlier access to employment and the special attention given to children and other vulnerable groups.

But it called on the commission to make more improvements in other areas, and particularly to further reform the Dublin Regulation.

"It is disappointing that the changes proposed by the commission do not go to the core of the problem. By requiring that those fleeing persecution must claim asylum in the first EU country they reach, the Dublin system fails to take account of the fact that a person's chance of being recognised as a refugee varies hugely from one EU country to another," ECRE said.

Amnesty International expressed similar concerns, adding that the organisation is also "very concerned about the possible wide interpretation of the grounds for detention that is being proposed."

According to commission data, 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.

Cool reception to compulsory EU sharing of asylum 'burden'

Italy on Thursday called for "obligatory burden sharing" among EU member states when it comes to taking in asylum seekers, but the call has received a cool reaction by other member states. Rome has also drawn fire from human rights groups for forcibly returning hundreds of people intercepted in its territorial waters in May back to Libya.

MEPs back asylum rules overhaul

The European Parliament approved a series of proposals on Thursday 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.

Orban's sovereignty bill seen as fresh attack on rule of law

Hungary's new sovereignty law has been criticised by the opposition as 'another dark milestone' for the country's democratic values and the rule of law — and it could bring yet another clash between Budapest and Brussels.


How Wilders' Dutch extremism goes way beyond Islamophobia

Without losing sight of his pervasive Islamophobia, it is essential to note Geert Wilders' far-right extremism extends to other issues that could drastically alter the nature of Dutch politics — and end its often constructive role in advancing EU policies.

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