Brussels, 10 September 2015: As the world is witnessing the largest displacement crisis since World War II, which is driving an unprecedented number of people fleeing war and persecution to undertake dangerous, life-threatening journeys to safety, the European Union’s common policy on asylum lacks solidarity and consistency, according to research from the Asylum Information Database (AIDA), covering 18 countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany, France, Greece, Croatia, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Turkey.
While the EU registered 626,710 asylum applicants in 2014, record numbers have already been witnessed during the first half of 2015, with over 300,000 asylum seekers received by four Member States: Germany, Hungary, France and Italy. The majority of applicants come from Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea, yet their treatment varies substantially between European countries. In 2014, positive decision rates for Eritrean nationals varied from 26% in France to 100% in Sweden, while rates for Iraqi nationals ranged from 14% in Greece to 94% in France.
Faced with what is predominantly a refugee crisis unravelling at Europe’s borders and within, from Kos to Szeged and from Traiskirchen to Calais, the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) and Europe’s approach to asylum, have come to a turning point. The fact that the vast majority of asylum applications in the EU continued to be lodged in only 5 EU Member States in 2014 and 2015, while some of those Member States take in the highest numbers of refugees and already face significant challenges in their reception systems, has become a key political stumbling block and is likely to remain high on the EU’s political agenda.
Yet debates on collective measures to assist frontline countries in handling increasing numbers of arrivals, which were given momentum by the European Agenda on Migration and the proposal to relocate 40,000 persons from Italy and Greece over a two-year period, have revealed the scale of persisting divisions among Member States. That a modest proposal to assist two countries which have received over 365,000 refugees and migrants since the beginning of the year has proven to be so controversial within the EU, with Member States only agreeing on pledges far short of the 40,000 target, illustrates that this solidarity crisis fails those in most dire need of Europe’s protection. The debate is set to continue, as more robust relocation efforts of as many as an additional 120,000 persons are being discussed for Italy, Greece and Hungary under a fresh proposal for a Council Decision by the Commission, along with a proposal for a crisis relocation mechanism amending the Dublin Regulation. To be successful, relocation should entail a swift and flexible process which takes into account asylum seekers’ preferences and ties to specific Member States as far as possible.
“The lack of positive reaction by many Member States is in sharp contrast to the spontaneous outpouring of solidarity by Europe’s citizens, residents and NGOs. Civil society has long been a backbone for the European asylum system, and the most recent humanitarian responses by “simple Europeans,” has been nothing short of extraordinary. NGOs and volunteers have quickly stepped in where authorities have been unwilling or unable to respond. Our report shows that more Europe is indeed needed for the asylum system to operate. The monumental injustice is that today refugees are caught squarely in Europe’s solidarity crisis,” says Michael Diedring, ECRE’s Secretary General.
The other side of solidarity raises significant concerns. The European Commission’s proposal for a Regulation to amend the recast Asylum Procedures Directive aims to set out a common list of “safe countries of origin” whose nationals will be presumed by all Member States not to be at risk of persecution or serious harm. This rule, the report details, will enable EU countries to apply accelerated procedures, which in practice often significantly curtail asylum seekers’ rights to appeal a negative decision and to lawfully remain on the territory pending such an appeal. Current practice reveals sharp discrepancies in the interpretation of the “safe country of origin” concept across the Union. While several Member States have drawn up national lists of safe countries, the countries listed therein vary substantially from one Member State to another. At the same time, refugee status determination processes often reveal that asylum seekers coming from “safe countries of origin” have international protection needs. Applicants from Albania, a country listed in 7 Member States and targeted by the proposed common list, were subject to an average EU recognition rate of 7.1% in 2014 and 11.6% during the first quarter of 2015. Advocating for a common EU approach to “safe countries of origin” therefore runs the risk of a ‘race to the bottom’ in protection standards by standardising presumptions of safety in the name of convergence, the report warns.
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