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Sunday, 2 May 2010

Achieving a common EU asylum system

Cleveland (European Parliament constituency)Image via Wikipedia
Source: New Europe

By Sylvie Guillaume MEP

For many years, European Union Member States have called for a common asylum system and we are still on the way to achieving this goal. Yet, great disparities remain amongst Member States in the recognition of refugees. It is not acceptable anymore to tolerate this situation: this is the strongest argument in favour of why we should fight for fair protection procedures and the end of the "asylum lottery".

Nowadays it is obvious that refugee status determination decisions are not reached in a fair manner in some Member States where final decisions are standardized, after an extremely short interview lasting on average five minutes!

Our common task is now to ensure that everyone, wherever he or she reaches Europe, can exercise his or her right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in a Member State. It is a challenging task which comes upon us, while significant progress is needed for Member States to really take on their responsibilities regarding asylum.

The draft recast of the Asylum Procedures Directive is a great opportunity for us to achieve this simple objective: ensuring procedures which may lead to more efficient determination of status at first instance so as to improve efficiency of the asylum process and prevent abuse.

Many changes considered as revolutionary by Member States, are only codifying obligations that already exist in international law and are translated in judgments by the Court.

I would particularly promote the non-suspensive appeal granted against the rejection of an asylum claim. I think that to allow applicants who have made such claims to remain in the EU while their appeals are pending is a necessary condition for effective remedy.

I also fully support the restrictions imposed on the use of accelerated procedures as an additional guarantee to prevent any risk of refoulement for people in real need for protection. In fact, the quicker the process in adjudicating claims, the higher the possibility of taking a “non quality” decision.

And finally, it is crucial to ensure that asylum-seekers have the right to be heard in a fair and efficient manner. It can not be considered as a disproportionate measure. On the contrary it's the pre-condition to ensure the principle of individual decision.

At this stage -as strange as it may seem...- many Member States expressed hostility to this text. They mainly focus on reasons of administrative burden and additional costs. It is also argued that non-suspensive appeals against the refusal of asylum will encourage abuse of the asylum system by people who are not entitled to protection, thus giving rise to unbearable costs. It is undoubtedly useful however to recall that if financial aspects have their justification, we are talking here about principles of right and responsibilities for Member States.

One should recognize that establishing a fair and efficient asylum system is not necessarily simple in a context worsened with the economic crisis, and where public debate, nurtured by a number of politicians, is often focused on security issues and control of irregular migration, with negative impact on behaviours towards foreigners.

However we need to convince the Council and all the actors involved in this discussion that asylum is not just a question of burden-sharing between European authorities but also taking on responsibility towards people in need for protection. What a challenging project!

Sylvie Guillaume is a Member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament and a Member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs

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