8 April 2016

On 6 April the European Commission presented a number of proposals which set out steps to fundamentally reform the Common European Asylum System. It sets out two alternative options for the Dublin system, which allocates responsibility to Member States for examining asylum claims, primarily on the basis of the first country of irregular entry. While this system has long been criticised by ECRE and others, it has been placed under increased strain in recent months with undue pressure on very few Member States.  

Under the first option presented by the European Commission, the current criteria for responsibility of an asylum claim would be maintained. However there would be a ‘corrective fairness mechanism’ to distribute asylum seekers more fairly across Member States in situations of ‘mass influx’. In such situations they could be relocated in a scheme similar to the crisis relocation mechanism for Italy and Greece. Only around 1,100 asylum seekers have been relocated since this was agreed on in September last year.

The second option proposed, would move away from responsibility based on the first country of irregular entry and instead be based on a distribution key, taking into account factors such as size, wealth and ability of Member States to absorb asylum seekers. However family links, the best interests of the child and previous residence would take priority.

It must be noted that neither option takes into account the preferences of asylum seekers. Furthermore, the proposals are unclear as to the exact criteria used, with Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch stating that “the proposals have little that is new or concrete”. ECRE Member British Refugee Council have stated that “ any system aimed at sharing responsibility for protecting refugees must put their best interests first, and be preference-based, rooted in respect for fundamental rights and based on incentives rather than coercion.”

Other measures proposed include a complete overhaul of the existing system for asylum in Europe, with changes to the rules on procedures, reception and the assessment of who qualifies for international protection. These are aimed at greater convergence of asylum systems between Member States as well as discouraging onward movement of asylum seekers. However as Amnesty International notes, there is an impetus to “harmonise downwards in an attempt to render the EU inaccessible to asylum seekers”. The measures discussed include a reduction in procedural standards, sanctions for those who abscond such as detention, and make it more difficult to access reception conditions. 

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 8 April 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.