Common European Asylum System closer than before

Tuesday 19, July 2011 WARSAW, July 19 (UNHCR) – An Iraqi asylum-seeker has 82 percent chances of being accepted as a refugee in France, 63 percent in Germany and only two percent in Greece. The aim of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) is to address these unacceptable major differences […]

Tuesday 19, July 2011

WARSAW, July 19 (UNHCR) – An Iraqi asylum-seeker has 82 percent chances of being accepted as a refugee in France, 63 percent in Germany and only two percent in Greece. The aim of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) is to address these unacceptable major differences in granting asylum in the European Union (EU) and to ensure that each refugee in need of protection from persecution has the same chance to obtain asylum in any member state of the EU.

The challenges and the development of the CEAS by the end of 2012 were discussed at the Asylum Conference organized by the Polish EU-Presidency in Warsaw on 11-12 July. The EU Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs continue their debates on the next steps in the coastal resort town of Sopot, Poland this week.

The Asylum Conference and discussions take place during the month of the 60th Anniversary of the Adoption of the 1951 Refugee Convention. At the conference, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström emphasized the continued relevance of the Refugee Convention to the EU today and the value of the cooperation between UNHCR and the EU in the development of the Common European Asylum System.

Participants at the conference universally agreed that despite the many challenges faced in establishing a truly functioning Common European Asylum System, there is no alternative to CEAS and that all states and actors must continue working towards its achievement. “The EU continues to draw to its borders those requiring protection”, highlighted Volker Türk, Director of International Protection at UNHCR Headquarters in his keynote address.

The EU, therefore, has to improve and harmonize the existing national and European legislations, while Member States authorities have to apply the harmonized laws in a uniform way. Ongoing quality initiative projects of UNHCR in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia in the Central European region aim at achieving these goals.

In addition to harmonization and practical cooperation, EU members also have to develop and implement responsibility sharing mechanisms. “One country is not able to receive half of the asylum-seekers arriving to Europe, which is the case now in Greece”, stressed Daniel Endres, Director of UNHCR Bureau for Europe at the Warsaw conference. Geography alone cannot decide the responsibility for dealing with an asylum case.

Over the years, the EU has adopted a number of legislations in order to harmonise the differing asylum systems across the Union. The Dublin Regulation determines which Member State is responsible for examining an individual asylum application. The Reception Conditions Directive sets out the minimum conditions for the reception of asylum-seekers, eg. in housing, education and health. The Asylum Procedures Directive lays out minimum standards for asylum procedures. The Qualification Directive defines who is a refugee and their rights and introduces the form of subsidiary protection to be granted to persons facing risks of serious harm, complementing the 1951 Refugee Convention. The community-wide information system, Eurodac helps compare fingerprints and determine whether an asylum-seeker has already lodged an asylum claim in any of the EU Member States.

The European Union keeps on working to further improve these pieces of legislation based on the experience gained through their application. “The Hungarian EU-Presidency has completed works on the Procedural Directive. During its presidency term, Poland will focus on the Reception Conditions Directive and the Qualification Directive”, announced Undersecretary of State of the Polish Ministry of Interior and Administration, Piotr Stachańczyk at the Asylum Conference.

A special session of the conference comprising government representatives, academics and NGOs discussed the importance and methods of practical cooperation between EU Member States. Robert Visser, Director of the newly established European Asylum Support Office (EASO) emphasized that practical cooperation was not an alternative to strengthened legal norms, but that rather both were needed to tackle problems of consistency and quality in granting asylum in the EU, not only in the interest of the protection of refugees and their families but also of the EU countries and all parties to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Magda Qandil in Warsaw, Poland