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EU directive may trigger downgrading of asylum standards

Briefing notes

EU directive may trigger downgrading of asylum standards

2 December 2005

UNHCR is concerned that a controversial EU directive on asylum procedures adopted without discussion by the 25 EU member states in Brussels yesterday may lead to a serious downgrading of asylum standards in the European Union and beyond.

The asylum procedures directive sets minimum norms on how decisions on asylum claims in EU member states should be made. UNHCR is worried that the implementation of the directive may lead to breaches of international refugee law if no additional safeguards are introduced. This could have wider implications, eroding international standards of refugee protection far beyond the EU.

UNHCR has supported the process of harmonization of asylum in Europe since it started in 1999. But we are disappointed by the failure of member states to live up to their commitment to international asylum standards. At a meeting in Tampere in 1999, EU countries committed themselves to the absolute respect for the right to seek asylum and the full and inclusive application of the 1951 Geneva Convention.

Despite repeated concerns raised by UNHCR during the negotiation process, the final text contains serious deficiencies. UNHCR is particularly concerned about certain rules allowing states to designate "safe third countries" outside the EU, to which asylum seekers can be turned back without even having had their claims heard in an EU member state.

The directive also fails to spell out clearly that asylum seekers cannot be sent back to their countries of origin while waiting for the outcome of their appeals, thus removing the right to an effective remedy in the event that an error has been made.

The directive also permits a number of other restrictive and highly controversial practices that are currently only contained in one or two member states' national legislation, but which could be inserted in the legislation of all 25 EU states. UNHCR calls on member states not to aim at the lowest common level permitted by the directive when they implement the agreed rules into their national legislation, but to strive to ensure adequate safeguards and high standards of protection for refugees.