A Common European Asylum System is here

Somali refugees en route through Kenya, 2009. Photo: B.Heger/UNHCR

The EU will have a common European asylum system by the fall of 2015! We are now putting years of hard negotiations behind us after today’s positive vote by the European Parliament on the Asylum Package – the framework legislation that will give the EU a common system for asylum.

More than 330 000 people lodged an asylum application in the EU Member States last year, but asylum is not a matter of statistics. Behind every number there is a person who has been forced to leave her home and escape to a whole different continent. The reasons why a person has to flee can vary. It can be to escape from war, persecution or torture. Whatever the reasons might be, each person has a right to have her asylum application tried in a transparent process that respects her legal rights. With a common system, we will take a joint responsibility to ensure that those who have escaped from their home countries will be treated well and have their case tried.  This is a great success for the EU, and it deserves a longer blog entry.

The Qualifications Directive specifies the grounds for granting a person international protection and refugee status. The UN Refugee Convention is of course valid, but the Directive gives a common interpretation of the original definition of a refugee.

The Asylum Procedure Directive provides common rules for the EU, e.g. setting time limits on the handling of asylum applications that the Member States’ authorities must adhere to. We have set obligations for proper education for staff that handles asylum applications, and also special rules for unaccompanied minors as they have different needs than adults.

The Reception Conditions Directive sets a minimum standard on the reception of the asylum seeker, with rules on dignified material living conditions and early evaluation of the asylum seeker’s physical and mental health. The asylum seeker shall also be granted faster access to employment. This Directive is important considering the inadequate reception centres all over Europe today. I have earlier written about centres in Greece. We now have clear rules on the conditions of the reception centres, and a very limited list of exceptional cases in which an asylum seeker may be kept in detention. As a fundamental principle: refugees shall not be placed in locked detention centres, and children should never be locked up, unless in exceptional cases it is necessary for their own security.

The Dublin Regulation is already in place and contains rules that decide which Member State that should handle an asylum claim. This Regulation is now being updated, and according to the new rules, an asylum seeker may not be sent to a Member State where there is a risk of inhumane or degrading treatment. This update also creates a system to detect and address possible issues in the national asylum systems early, before these issues can develop into crises.

EURODAC is a database with fingerprints of all people above the age of 14 that have applied for asylum in one of the EU Member States. According to these new rules, law enforcement authorities will have access to this database in cases that relate to terrorism and serious crime. However, this access is guarded by very strict controls to ensure that refugees are not routinely treated as criminals.

A set of common rules is an incredibly important step to eliminate the large differences that exist between the Member States today, and to raise the standard. In addition, all 27 EU Member States, soon to be 28, have a fully functioning asylum system which will mean that more countries will be able to take responsibility for the people who come for protection in Europe. Today, ten Member States receive 90 % of all asylum seekers.

The next step is to make sure that all Member States will implement these rules. It is worth mentioning that the Commission have funding connected to this legislation package, enabling the Member States to seek funding to help them in the important task of establishing a fully functioning asylum system that respects the legal rights of asylum seekers. We will also assist with training and other support. Only when this system is implemented throughout the EU, we can truthfully say that we have a common asylum system that is characterised by dignity and legal certainty.

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