As part of the EU’s Eastern Partnership, the European Commission is engaged in ‘Visa Liberalisation Dialogues’ with Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Before the visa requirement to enter the EU can be waived for citizens of these countries, the Commission requires that each country must implement a Visa Liberalisation Action Plan (VLAP), which includes measures regarding migration, border management and asylum, as well as document security, public order and security, external relations and fundamental rights.
On 15 November 2013, the Commission published progress reports for Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. The Commission is satisfied with Moldova’s implementation of their VLAP, and will shortly be presenting a legislative proposal to lift visa requirements for Moldovan citizens holding a biometric passport. However, Ukraine and Georgia still have VLAP duties to comply with, including with regard to their asylum systems.
The Commission regards Ukraine’s framework asylum law from 2011 as not fully compliant with international and European standards. In particular, the Commission considers the law’s definitions of ‘complementary protection’ and ‘temporary protection’ to be too narrow, and is concerned that ‘necessary medical care’ is not ‘given free of charge to asylum seekers’ (while acknowledging the draft proposals to rectify this). The report also urges Ukraine to extend the deadline for asylum appeals, which is currently set at five days. Decision-makers are asked to specifically refer to country of origin information, and Ukraine needs to clarify ‘issues such as right to interpretation, confidentiality of interviews, providing grounds for rejection and inadmissibility of asylum claims’. In addition, ‘detention rules need to be further specified, with special regard to a necessary court authorisation’.
The Commission is concerned about Ukraine’s law concerning legal aid for foreign nationals, because it ‘only foresees legal aid to nationals of countries with which Ukraine has signed a bilateral agreement on free legal aid – a provision that de facto excludes many asylum seekers from access to free legal aid’. Ukraine is also told to increase the budget for refugee integration plans, employ more staff and streamline the process at the State Migration Service, and improve relations with UNHCR and civil society.
Georgia’s asylum system, although broadly approved in the report, also requires improvement. The Commission recommends reconsideration of the law which provides that, except in special circumstances beyond their control, a person irregularly staying in Georgia shall be automatically refused asylum if he/she doesn’t apply within 24 hours of entering Georgian territory. The report is also concerned that asylum seekers are not given documentation from the very beginning of the procedure. Reception and accommodation capacity, which currently provides for a maximum of 60 persons, must also be increased, along with data collection and staff numbers at the relevant Ministry. The Commission also asks Georgia to examine whether the ability of a rejected applicant to appeal to three consecutive court instances, with suspensive effect, will ‘endanger the efficiency of the asylum procedure and asylum policy in general’.
Regarding Moldova, the Commission is satisfied that asylum legislation has been effectively implemented. The report confirms that responsible bodies and infrastructure have been strengthened with staff and funding, to ensure adequate asylum procedures, reception conditions, integration of refugees and access to travel documents.