UNHCR Malta welcomes step towards a Common European Asylum System

A package of EU legislation on asylum has been adopted after long negotiations. UNHCR welcomes this achievement, which represents an important step forward towards the establishment of a Common European Asylum System (CEAS).

The revised EU legislation can contribute to harmonizing the asylum systems of 27 (soon 28) EU Member States and improving protection standards and practices across the European Union. Timely identification and recognition of persons in need of international protection (and identification of those who do not qualify) is imperative, not only for those who seek protection, but also to save resources, through more efficient asylum systems that operate at a high standard of quality.

Several new provisions in the recast EU Directives have potential to better the situation of asylum-seekers and refugees in very concrete terms, so also in Malta. This includes further regulation of the use of detention for asylum-seekers, on the basis of the premise that detention is an exceptional measure that can only be justified on specifically defined grounds assessed on an individual basis. It is noteworthy that systematic detention of all asylum-seekers is not in line with these requirements. Furthermore, the new EU legislation limits the use of detention to exceptional circumstances for vulnerable persons and unaccompanied minors.

In UNHCR’s view, the revised EU legislation adds urgency to the need to review the current policy in Malta which prescribes detention for all asylum seekers who arrive irregularly in this country. At the moment, even children and other vulnerable individuals are placed behind bars during the period when age and vulnerability assessments are carried out – a process which can take weeks, in some cases even months, to complete. Seen through the lens of the revised EU legislation, this is not an acceptable practice. UNHCR is hopeful that the new Maltese Government will consider it timely to carry out such a review and pursue necessary adjustments to the current system. UNHCR stands ready to provide concrete and constructive support in this regard.

EU Member States will now begin the process of amending national laws and regulations to reflect the changes in EU level legislation. The Malta-based European Asylum Support Office (EASO) will carry a vital responsibility to support effective implementation, including through coordination of practical cooperation between states. As implementation of the new rules proceeds, the European Commission will also have a critical role in monitoring compliance of national laws and practice. UNHCR, as part of its ongoing collaboration with governments, national authorities, EU bodies and civil society, offers its support and reiterates its commitment to work closely with all involved to seek positive outcomes to this critical transposition and implementation phase.

Recognizing the achievement that adoption of the recast EU laws represents, UNHCR also notes that some provisions may present challenges of interpretation and implementation. UNHCR encourages all Member States to take advantage of the transposition process to apply more favorable standards for those in need of protection, in line with relevant international law obligations.

UNHCR also maintains its support for cooperation and solidarity between states. While the legislative amendments at the EU level do not prescribe mandatory responsibility-sharing mechanisms, it is important to note solidarity among Member states remains an important precondition for EU Member States to work together towards a common European asylum system. The recent years’ relocation arrangements from Malta is one such example.

The newly adopted legislation alone will not avert all problems facing asylum seekers and refugees – nor solve all challenges relating to managing asylum in the EU. UNHCR considers, however, that the recast legislation constitutes a considerable step forward towards reconciling key obligations under international refugee and human rights law with the need to manage effectively and practically pressures on the national asylum systems in Europe.

Read the full text of UNHCR’s statement on the recast EU legislation here.