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UNHCR study finds inconsistency in EU on asylum

News Stories, 6 November 2007

© UNHCR/A.Meyfroodt
Panellists discuss the UNHCR report. They include Deo Ladislas Ndakengerwa (far left) and Katrine Camilleri next to him.

BRUSSELS, Belgium, November 6 (UNHCR) A UN refugee agency study released on Tuesday finds significant differences of approach by different European Union (EU) member states in the implementation of measures aimed at protecting refugees.

"This is a concern for us. People in need of international protection should see their claim for asylum treated in the same way throughout all 27 member states of the Union," said UNHCR Regional Representative Judith Kumin, referring to the report on the EU's Qualification Directive.

The directive was adopted in 2004 and is considered one of the building blocks of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). The directive sets out the criteria EU member states must use to decide whether an asylum seeker is entitled to international protection, and what kind of protection he or she receives, be it refugee status or a subsidiary form of protection.

The UNHCR study released during a seminar in Brussels today looks at how key provisions of this directive are implemented in five EU member states France, Germany, Greece, the Slovak Republic and Sweden which together received nearly 50 percent of all asylum applications in the EU last year.

"Our study shows that while there is improvement in consistency, member states have very different interpretations on some of the key elements which can decide whether someone gets protection in Europe or not," said Brussels-based Kumin.

Between March and July this year, UNHCR-appointed researchers examined more than 1,400 individual asylum decisions and interviewed officials, lawyers and representatives of non-governmental organizations. The asylum decisions concerned applicants from countries such as Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq and the Russian Federation.

The study's findings are mixed. Kumin said the directive had archived some of its goals, noting that EU member states are more consistent in their decisions on asylum claims.

"For instance, in the past, not all member states granted protection to people persecuted or at risk from non-state actors militia, clans, families but now they generally do so. However, states still have very different approaches in issues such as internal protection whereby a person at risk could find safety in another part of his or her country of origin," Kumin said.

During Tuesday's UNHCR-organized seminar, representatives of the European Commission described the study as concrete and focused and welcomed some of the report's recommendations addressed to the EU and its members, such as the need for quality control mechanisms with regard to asylum procedures.

Deo Ladislas Ndakengerwa of the Irish Refugee Council highlighted the issue of protection when a non-state actor is the source of alleged persecution. "We had a tragic case of a young female asylum seeker persecuted by a gang of drug dealers. Her asylum claim was refused; she disappeared. No one knows what happened to her," he told delegates.

Maltese lawyer Katrine Camilleri, who recently won the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award, reminded participants that asylum seekers arriving in Europe face a system difficult to understand and "full of uncertainties."

The UNHCR study is intended as a constructive contribution to the debate about the CEAS. "Much more needs to be done if the EU is to achieve a common approach to asylum claims and this is a unique endeavour. Legislation needs to be improved and the gap between law and practice narrowed," said Judith Kumin.

"But it is much more than a legal debate. Lives are at stake. People in need of international protection should see their claim for protection dealt with in a predictable and transparent way", she concluded.

By Gilles van Moortel in Brussels, Belgium