After five years of negotiations, on June 12, the European Parliament has voted on the remaining legislative pieces of the ‘asylum package’, which encompasses the recast Asylum Procedures and Reception directives, and the Dublin and Eurodac Regulations, as well as the recast Qualification Directive already adopted in 2011.
Improvements introduced through the asylum package include among others, mandatory personal interviews for all asylum seekers; better representation for unaccompanied children; allowing asylum seekers in an accelerated procedure to request in court to stay in the territory while they appeal against a negative decision on their case; and further approximation of the content of rights granted to beneficiaries of subsidiary protection and refugees in areas such as access to employment and to health care.
However, some provisions may have the effect of undermining the overall aim of achieving harmonised and high standards of protection across Europe. In particular, there is a risk that the broad definition of grounds for asylum detention will increase its use, making it the norm rather than an exception.
Furthermore, despite the increasing complexity of asylum procedures, there is no significant progress regarding access to free legal aid. The recast Asylum Procedures Directive does not include an obligation for Member States to provide free legal assistance and representation at the first instance of the asylum procedure, while at the appeal stage this can be made conditional on the appeal having a tangible prospect of success.
Also, torture survivors and unaccompanied children will not be exempted from accelerated and border procedures making it more difficult for them to access asylum procedures and substantiate their application for international protection.
The European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights have welcomed the inclusion of mechanisms to identify vulnerable asylum seekers on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, but they stressed that Member States need to put the necessary identification mechanisms in place to properly address the specific needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual applicants.
The European Parliament and the Council have also agreed to provide law enforcement agencies access to Eurodac, the database storing asylum seekers’ fingerprints.
Civil society has underlined that in no way should the transposition of common EU standards result in the downgrading of national asylum systems in law or in practice, and has called on the European Commission to allocate sufficient resources to effectively monitor the implementation of EU law, including compliance with international and European human rights law, and address any deterioration of practices by starting prompt infringement proceedings
Already this week, Hungary amended its asylum legislation to introduce provisions that will allow for the detention of asylum seekers for up to six months. Both UNHCR and ECRE’s Member, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee warned that the changes could lead to the widespread use of detention.