11 September 2015

Ahead of the Extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting of 14 and 15 September 2015, ECRE urges EU Member States and institutions to take decisive action to address what is primarily a refugee crisis, not only a migration phenomenon. ECRE urges Member States to take a comprehensive approach based on solidarity and respect for fundamental rights instead of the current piecemeal approach that risks encouraging a ‘race to the bottom’ in standards of protection.

To date, the lack of an effective and coordinated EU response to the increased arrivals of refugees and migrants at the main points of entry of the EU has generated additional suffering for the refugees and migrants concerned. This contrasts sharply with the overwhelming solidarity shown by EU citizens and NGOs all over Europe to the refugees arriving in EU Member States on a day-to-day basis. In this regard, the decision by the German government to allow thousands of refugees leaving Hungary to apply for asylum in Germany, in addition to its commitments on relocation and resettlement, is a remarkable expression of solidarity.

While the substantial increase of arrivals in the EU poses specific challenges and requires robust solidarity measures to increase the protection space within the EU, there is also a need to dramatically step up the number of resettlement places in the EU and other opportunities for refugees to come to the EU in a safe and legal way.

In a Memorandum addressed to the Ministers, ECRE raises a number of key concerns and recommendations with regard to current debates at EU level, primarily:

  • Responding to the Emergency – Commit to robust solidarity and responsibility-sharing efforts within the EU

Urgent and immediate action is needed to address the situation at the entry points of the EU and to ensure that asylum seekers have effective access to a fair and efficient asylum procedure. ECRE supports UNHCR’s call to increase relocation places to 200,000 for the three countries concerned as it corresponds with ECRE’s earlier call to increase the relocation effort to at least 70,000 places for Greece in particular. However, in light of the increasing trend in arrivals, ECRE urges EU institutions to provide for such relocation effort to be carried out within a year rather than over a two year period.

  • Increase significantly the number of resettlement places in the EU and the use of other safe and legal channels for persons in need of international protection

ECRE urges Member States to open up safe channels for refugees to find protection in the EU as the most effective way to disrupt the smugglers’ business model is to take away their reason for existence. In absence of legal channels to reach the EU, refugees and migrants are increasingly forced to put their faith in the hands of smugglers to find safety. This vicious circle needs to be broken. At the same time, saving lives at sea must remain a key priority.

  • Strengthening resilience and preparedness of asylum systems based on responsibility

Relocation can be an immediate answer to the emergency situation but it needs to go hand in hand with structural reforms and an increased effort to improve the quality and resilience of the asylum systems in Member States benefiting from it. It is important to ensure that relocation should not work as a disincentive for the States concerned to invest in setting up fair and efficient asylum systems in line with their obligations under international human rights and EU law. A further fundamental reform is needed to address the flaws of the CEAS and achieve a truly common approach based on solidarity and responsibility. In this regard, the march of thousands of refugees and migrants from Hungary through Austria to Germany has once again illustrated how the Dublin system has lost any purpose and should be replaced with a system of fair responsibility-sharing that is in the best interests of both States and asylum seekers.

  • Uphold the right to access a fair and efficient asylum procedure

The establishment of an EU common list of safe countries of origin is being proposed by the Commission as one of the tools to address the current increase in asylum applications. The use of the concept of safe country of origin itself raises fundamental questions from an international law perspective, as it may result in discriminatory treatment of refugees based on their country of origin, which is prohibited under Article 3 of the 1951 Refugee Convention. If applied in a hotspot context, as seems to be the intention, the application of a common safe country of origin list would further exacerbate such procedural unfairness.

Read the full Memorandum to the JHA Council.