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Entry of refugees into the EU and enhancing protection for them in the countries of first asylum
The Member States have been planning for some time to process asylum applications outside the European Union in order to regulate the flow of refugees into Europe and to speed up the process of granting international protection to those who need it. The Commission proposes introducing a programme for resettling asylum-seekers in the EU, while at the same time enhancing the reception capacity of the countries of first asylum, located in the asylum-seekers' regions of origin.
Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 4 June 2004 on the managed entry in the EU of persons in need of international protection and the enhancement of the protection capacity of the regions of origin: "improving access to durable solutions" [COM(2004)410 final - Not published in the Official Journal]
In this communication the Commission sets out recommendations for practical measures to implement the Thessaloniki mandate, given that the majority of applications for asylum in the EU do not fulfil the conditions for obtaining international protection. The Commission concludes that there is a need for better management of the entry of refugees into EU territory, looking ahead to a common asylum policy.
In an effort to find lasting solutions to the influx of refugees into the EU, the Commission focuses on three elements of asylum policy: the managed entry of asylum-seekers into the EU, enhanced protection in the regions of origin and the creation of EU regional protection programmes.
Managed entry of refugees into the EU
The Commission believes that the resettlement of refugees, which is often given a lower priority than voluntary repatriation, could play an important part in EU asylum policy. It therefore advocates the introduction of an EU-wide resettlement programme. All Member States would participate, but the scheme would be flexible and non-binding.
The main objective of the resettlement programme would be to provide international protection by facilitating the organised arrival of refugees in the EU. The programme's watchword would be flexibility and it would be situation-specific. It would target a constant but limited number of refugees and could be adjusted according to the capacity of the Member States to accommodate asylum-seekers. Targets would be set at European level.
Resettlement would primarily affect individuals qualifying for international protection and groups of refugees regarded by the EU as particularly vulnerable. Candidates would be selected on the basis of interviews with the immigration services of the Member States during visits to the region of origin. The selection criteria could be agreed collectively or be specific to the Member States. There could be a role for NGOs in helping candidates to prepare their dossiers.
The logistical arrangements could be modelled on the resettlement programmes currently operating in certain European countries under the auspices of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Transport could be organised by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The EU would also provide technical assistance to the Member States for the preparation, referral, and selection of resettlement cases.
Protection of refugees in the regions of origin
The Commission agrees with the UNHCR that the international community should equip the countries of first asylum with the necessary means to be able to guarantee refugees protection that meets international standards. The Commission therefore emphasises the need to help these countries, located in the regions from which refugees originate, to enhance their legal and administrative capacity and to ensure greater respect for human rights and the rule of law.
In practical terms, the Commission advocates more efficient processing of asylum applications and better integration of applicants from third countries in the region of origin. Refugees will then be able to integrate in one of these countries of first asylum if there is no possibility of them returning to their country of origin or being resettled.
In the Commission's view, the system of protection for refugees should serve two purposes: to assess and enhance the sustainable protection capacity of the host country. In the medium to long term, the aim would be to introduce targeted technical assistance based on the following principles:
- accession and adherence to refugee instruments and other international humanitarian law treaties;
- the creation of national legal frameworks consistent with international rules on refugees and asylum;
- registration of asylum-seekers and refugees and preparation of detailed written documentation on their applications;
- the establishment of admission and reception conditions for asylum-seekers that comply with the relevant national and international standards;
- support for economic self-reliance and local integration of refugees and asylum-seekers.
The Commission believes that the ability of a state to offer effective protection to asylum-seekers can be assessed in the light of compliance with certain principles:
- there is no threat to life and liberty on grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion;
- the principle of non-refoulement is respected;
- the prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is respected, as is the prohibition on any form of removal that would expose the asylum-seeker to the risk of such treatment;
- it is possible to apply for refugee status and receive protection under the Geneva Convention;
- it is possible to live a safe and dignified life.
The Commission proposes using as a reference point the new AENEAS programme for financial and technical assistance to third countries in the area of migration and asylum. This financial instrument would enable Member States, third countries, international organisations and NGOs to set up projects to enhance refugee protection capacity in the countries of their region of origin.
EU regional protection programmes
In order to enhance the protection capacity of third countries and to manage the entry of refugees into European territory more effectively, the Commission was asked to propose EU regional protection programmes, to be devised in partnership with the third countries of the region in question. These multiannual programmes would be accompanied by:
- a list and an agenda for action
- projects to be implemented in the area of asylum and migration
- regional and country strategy papers.
They would also provide the framework for action by the Member States in a given country or region. The UNHCR would play a crucial role in the development and implementation of these programmes.
These EU regional protection programmes would provide a "tool box" of protection measures comprising:
- action to enhance protection capacity;
- a biometric registration scheme;
- an EU-wide resettlement scheme;
- assistance for improving the local infrastructure;
- aid to promote local integration of asylum-seekers;
- cooperation on legal migration;
- action on migration management;
- return policy.
The General Affairs and External Relations Council on 19 May 2003 had urged the Commission to examine ways of strengthening the reception capacity of third countries, for example through development cooperation. The analysis was to take into account the financial and institutional capacity of many developing countries and the burden that refugees might place on these structures.
The European Council in Thessaloniki on 19 and 20 June 2003 then asked the Commission to consider ways of improving the management of entry into the EU of refugees requiring international protection and ensuring better protection in their regions of origin.
Finally, in October 2003, at a seminar organised by the Italian EU Presidency in Rome, the Member States defended the idea of an EU-wide resettlement programme. This would be a useful tool that would allow policy-makers to find comprehensive solutions to refugee situations and to combat illegal immigration and human trafficking. The managed arrival of asylum-seekers would also be a way of counteracting racism and xenophobia, because public opinion would probably be more receptive.