UNHCR study finds inconsistent examination of asylum claims in EU

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 26 March 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

New research by the UN Refugee Agency in 12 EU Member States identified numerous differences in the way asylum applications are assessed. The study looked at how the EU's Asylum Procedures Directive has been applied in 12 European countries. Adopted in 2005, the Directive aimed at ensuring that refugee status determination would be consistent across the Union. It sets out guarantees for asylum procedures, including the right to a personal interview, to receive information on the outcome of their asylum claim and the right to appeal. The way in which this Directive is applied affects thousands of people seeking asylum in the Union, which registered 246,200 asylum claims in 2009.

The study found that Member States are applying the Directive inconsistently, in some cases in ways that may breach international refugee law. Applicants were not always afforded personal interviews, or were not given enough time to prepare for interviews or to explain their claims. Interpreters were not always available or qualified. In one country UNHCR found 171 identically worded interview reports - only the name of the applicant and the country of origin differed. At the time of UNHCR's research, three Member States used lists of so-called safe countries of origin as a basis for decision-making. Yet these lists were all different. Only one country (Ghana) appeared on the list of all three States, although in one of them Ghana was only considered 'safe' for men. Accelerated processes have reduced safeguards designed to protect asylum seekers. This creates the risk that protection needs are not properly identified and asylum seekers may be sent back to persecution or serious harm.

The study also confirmed many good practices, such as the provision of information on how to appeal negative decisions, codes of conduct for interviewers and interpreters, careful recording of interviews and of decisions, and good cross-cultural communication skills.

The research covered Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom. Researchers studied more than 1,000 individual case files and asylum decisions, observed hundreds of personal interviews of applicants, and interviewed asylum officials, judges, lawyers and other stakeholders.

Based on the study, UNHCR is proposing practical measures to help EU countries improve their practices, including training of officials in charge of examining asylum claims, and guidelines and codes of conduct for interviewers and interpreters. Some of these initiatives could be undertaken by the planned European Asylum Support Office.