Two new proposals for sharing responsibility for protecting refugees around European are being unveiled today by the European Commission.
The Commission acknowledges the current refugee crisis has exposed structural weaknesses and shortcomings in the system and will suggest two ways forward.
The first preserves the existing Dublin regulation which dictates which EU country is responsible for dealing with someone’s asylum claim – often the first country they’ve entered. The Commission is seeking to redress the current inherent unfairness of this system by promising countries on Europe’s borders that asylum seekers will be redistributed during times of high numbers of arrivals.
The second option on the table involves redistributing asylum seekers around the continent using a formula based on the size, wealth and reception capabilities of member states.
The EU Commission proposes that asylum seekers travel on to other European countries should face harsh sanctions; including a fast tracking of their claim, possible detention and a loss of support.
The plans also suggest that in the long term, the EU could take over decision making on asylum claims from individual countries, with branches of the European Asylum Support Office opening in each Member State. This office would also be responsible for handling asylum appeals.
At the moment, the EU asylum system is a lottery, with conditions, support and rates of recognition for refugees varying wildly between countries.
The British Government has reportedly claimed the possible preservation of the Dublin system as a victory, but it is not yet clear which, if either, proposal will be adopted.
Today’s proposals from the EU Commission are still in the early stages, with the Commission planning to put forward a formal proposition to reform the asylum system later in the year.
However, EU authorities would be unable to force any new system on Britain as Britain retains an opt out to such legislation.
Refugee Council Head of Advocacy Dr Lisa Doyle said: “It couldn’t be clearer that the current system for protecting refugees in Europe simply isn’t working. European leaders need to stop trying to pass the buck and acknowledge that everyone has a role to play in sheltering and protecting refugees – the Greeks and the Italians can’t be expected to deliver a continent’s worth of compassion alone.
“The British Government’s cynical lobbying to try to maintain the unfair, obviously unworkable status quo is outrageous and clearly indicates that it cares little about the lives of the desperate men, women and children arriving on European shores. When people are escaping the jaws of death our Government’s first instinct should be to help them; not to think that turning our backs and leaving the job of protecting refugees to others is something that should be celebrated. Britain’s better than that.”
The Refugee Council has long called for a new, more equitable system for sharing responsibility across Europe for protecting refugees and enabling them to reunite with their family members.
Dublin has never been fit for purpose and is inherently unfair on Europe’s border nations. At the moment, under the Dublin regulation, asylum seekers are shuttled around the continent like unwanted luggage, and at great expense, as states in northern Europe try to shirk their responsibility towards protecting refugees.
What would replace Dublin is ultimately a decision for European countries, but there are some fundamental principles we would like to see in any new agreement.
There needs to be an honest conversation about the need for countries which haven’t been pulling their weight so far to start stepping up to help. That includes Britain. The Refugee Council is calling for Britain to voluntarily step forward and show leadership in its approach to the refugee crisis by offering to help protect a more equitable share of the men, women and children arriving on Europe’s shores.
The one good thing about the current Dublin regulation, which is often ignored, is that it recognises the need for family unity. Even if families arrive separately and in different countries, the Dublin regulation acknowledges that it makes sense for them to be allowed to join each other in one place while they have their claims looked at. A system which prioritises bringing families together is urgently needed.
We strongly believe that any system aimed at sharing responsibility for protecting refugees must put their best interests first, and be preference-based, rooted in respect for fundamental rights and based on incentives rather than coercion.
It’s also vitally important that asylum seekers have access to efficient and just asylum systems whichever country they’re in. At the moment, it’s a lottery, and when decisions on asylum claims can be life or death, that’s just not good enough.
It’s imperative that these three fundamental principles are written into the DNA of any new agreement between states.
Ultimately, Europe is the world’s richest continent. It is perfect capable of sheltering and protecting some of the world’s most desperate people.