On 9 September, ECRE launched the Second Asylum Information Database (AIDA) Annual Report: Mind the Gap: An NGO Perspective on Challenges to Accessing Protection in the Common European Asylum System.

The research illustrates the persistent gaps between the theory of a Common European Asylum System (CEAS), where people fleeing similar situations are treated alike, and the harsh realities facing asylum seekers in 15 EU Member States of the European Union: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The research shows that asylum seekers’ access to accommodation and support to meet their basic needs, the grounds and conditions of detention and access to quality free legal assistance to properly protect their rights remain problematic in a number of EU Member States.

At the opening of the launch, ECRE Secretary General, Michael Diedring, underlined the consequences of the lack of safe access for refugees to the EU: “It is absurd that refugees are forced to pay thousands of euro in order to make a life-threatening trip to Europe because visa restrictions, carrier sanctions and border controls prevent them travelling legally, while many of them, such as Syrians and Eritreans, would be granted asylum and allowed to rebuild their lives in Europe if they survived the journey and made it to European soil.”

Christopher Hein, Director of the Italian Council for Refugees (CIR), Iliana Savova, Director of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and Corina Drousiotou, Senior Legal Advisor with Future Worlds Centre also took part in the AIDA Report launch and illustrated the challenges faced by refugees respectively in Italy, Bulgaria and Cyprus.

Christopher Hein explained the functioning of the Italian operation Mare Nostrum and how it has contributed to reducing the number of deaths at sea, by rescuing more than 100,000 people this year. He also added that most refugees, who have little opportunities to find accommodation or employment in Italy, move on to other European countries.

In relation to Bulgaria, Iliana Savova stated that many refugees are also forced to leave the country and head to Western Europe due to the lack of any integration program. Since December 2013, people fleeing war and persecution and granted international protection in Bulgaria have not received any initial integration support and have no access to accommodation, language or vocational training.

Regarding Cyprus, Corina Drousiotou explained that asylum seekers who are currently receiving social welfare support to access private accommodation and meet their basic needs will be now obliged to move to the remote Reception centre of Kofinou that is being expanded or otherwise lose their social welfare support and risk facing destitution.

In other European countries, asylum seekers are also confronted with major obstacles to having their claim for protection fairly assessed. For instance, in France, in 2013, vulnerable asylum seekers had to wait an average of 12 months before being accommodated in a reception centre.

Some EU States continue to criminalise asylum seekers by detaining them, including children. For example, in Hungary, asylum seekers are frequently detained. In April 2014, 26% of all asylum seekers and almost half (42%) of single men were detained. What’s more, despite being forbidden by Hungarian law, there are indications that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are detained for long periods together with adults, due to the lack of proper state-funded age assessment mechanisms. While in some countries, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, asylum-seeking families with children are no longer detained at the border, they are still frequently detained in countries such as Malta, Bulgaria and Greece.

Moreover, most of the EU Member States covered by the Asylum Information Database lack functioning mechanisms to effectively and promptly identify asylum seekers who are particularly vulnerable, such as torture survivors or children, whose applications might end up being processed in procedures with reduced safeguards.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 12 September 2014. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.