Vulnerable Groups

Any refugee seeking protection is in a vulnerable position, but the ability of certain individuals to present an application for international protection is further impaired due to particular personal characteristics or especially traumatic experiences. Such 'vulnerable groups' include, but are not limited to, children especially unaccompanied children, disabled people, elderly or persons suffering from serious illnesses, pregnant women, single parents with children, persons suffering from mental health problems, victims of human trafficking and victims of torture, rape or any other form of psychological, physical or sexual violence.

EU Rules
Although some legal instruments under the Common European Asylum System refer to vulnerable groups, the provisions in these instruments vary greatly.

Chapter IV of the Reception Directive places obligations on Member States concerning vulnerable groups. It requires national authorities to take into consideration 'the specific situation of vulnerable persons' as regards the provision of material reception conditions and health care.

The Dublin Regulation refers to vulnerable groups, but only in the very limited context of its humanitarian clause. This gives insufficient consideration to the needs of vulnerable people who lack family connections in Europe.

The Qualification Directive only mentions that Member States should take into account the specific situation of vulnerable persons such as minors, unaccompanied minors, disabled people, elderly people, pregnant women, single parents with minor children and persons who have been subjected to torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence.

The Asylum Procedures Directive does not explicitly mention vulnerable groups, but obliges Member States to take the "vulnerability" of the asylum seeker into account.

ECRE is especially concerned with the practical application of these provisions, as significant problems occur in applying them to vulnerable groups.

ECRE's position

► EU Member States should design effective mechanisms for the identification of vulnerable persons amongst refugees and asylum seekers and to ensure appropriate safeguards.

► The humanitarian clause in the Dublin Regulation should be used widely and consistently to ensure its intended impact in avoiding undue hardship to families as a result of separation.

► The quality of decision-making should be improved through a common training programme for national caseworkers involved in international protection determination. Such a programme should include elements such as interview techniques and working with vulnerable and traumatised applicants.

► Asylum systems should include prioritisation mechanisms for particularly vulnerable and manifestly well-founded cases.


Policy Papers Sharing Responsibility for Refugee Protection in Europe: Dublin Reconsidered
ECRE Response to European Commissions Green paper on the future Common European Asylum System
The Way Forward: 'Towards the Integration of Refugees in Europe'
The Way Forward: 'The Return of Asylum Seekers whose Applications have been Rejected'
Position on Asylum Seeking and Refugee Women
ECRE's position on Refugee Children