Yesterday we wholeheartedly welcomed a ruling from the European Court of Justice that means asylum seekers cannot be returned to other EU countries, such as Greece, where they will face ‘inhuman or degrading treatment’. To us, it’s a no-brainer.
Which is why some of the coverage in today’s newspapers and blogs is so disturbing (though perhaps unsurprising). Rather than rejoicing the fact that we will no longer be responsible for subjecting people to inhuman treatment, articles in the Express (front page), Telegraph online, and the Daily Mail instead raise questions about the rights of asylum seekers in Europe.
Surely the most important point should be that the situation for asylum seekers in Greece is untenable? People who arrive there having fled violence and conflict are more often than not detained indefinitely in overcrowded detention centres, or end up on the streets. Less than 1% of people who are actually able to claim asylum are recognised as refugees, meaning many are sent back to countries where their lives could be at risk. As our CEO, Donna Covey pointed out in her interview with the Today programme this morning, the UN and the EU have raised serious concerns that Greece’s asylum system is a mess. Today, Immigration Minister Damian Green’s said we should be helping Greece to improve their asylum system. And, up until now, European countries have been sending people back there if that is where they first entered the EU, under the Dublin regulation.
In an ideal world, people would be able to get the protection they need in any country. But the reality, as shown by the ECJ’s ruling, is far from this. Which is why we are calling for a common European asylum system, that doesn’t just ensure countries reach minimum standards, but ensures people can access fair, humane and effective asylum systems in whichever European country they apply for asylum in. As it stands, we must ensure that the relatively few that manage to get to the UK are given a fair hearing, and those that need protection are given permission to stay.
Everyone has the right to claim asylum, wherever that may be. The UN Convention for Refugees was created to guarantee people in Europe those rights after the atrocities of World War II. The 1967 Protocol extended the convention for people in other countries around the world who were also fleeing conflict. And until conflict and persecution no longer exist, those rights must be upheld.