ECRE has published its Comments on the European Commission’s proposal to recast the Reception Conditions Directive, laying down standards for the reception of asylum seekers in the European Union.

ECRE welcomes the improvements proposed by the Commission with regard to clearer, more protective definition of material reception conditions and standards applicable to all forms of accommodation, both relating to regular and exceptional reception measures taken by Member States. This is particularly important in light of the frequent use of substandard accommodation in transit zones or at border locations, arguably in a state of detention, in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, France and Hungary, as well as in the “hotspots” established in Greece and Italy.

The provisions on contingency planning, access to the labour market and identification of special reception needs are equally positive as a general step, though the Comments provide potential improvements thereto to ensure that asylum seekers are more effectively protected in line with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and may integrate faster and better into their host countries.

On the other hand, ECRE raises severe concerns as to the restrictive and punitive measures aimed at addressing secondary movements, which are acknowledged by the Commission as a phenomenon stemming to a large extent from Member States’ own failure to adhere to their reception obligations. The exclusion of applicants from reception conditions for reasons of absconding, as well as a range of preventive and punitive restrictions to the fundamental rights to free movement and liberty create strong tension with primary EU law as enshrined in the Charter, while also contradicting existing jurisprudence of European courts.

From a practical perspective, the objectives of compliance with the Dublin system and fostering integration are unlikely to be pursued through a coercive approach; if anything, sanctions are liable to push asylum seekers into more irregularity. To that end, ECRE urges the Council and the European Parliament to pragmatically assess how best to address the problem of people moving from one county to the other, by exploring incentives and ensuring that problems of poor implementation of reception standards are not attributed as moral blame on those seeking protection.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 07 October 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.