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Strasbourg, 12 June 2013
A Common European Asylum System
1. Asylum and the EU
A duty to protect
Asylum is granted to people fleeing persecution or serious harm. Asylum is a fundamental right; granting it is an international obligation under the 1951 Geneva Convention on the protection of refugees.
In an area of open borders and freedom of movement, we have to have a joint approach to asylum across the EU.
Asylum flows are not constant, nor are they evenly distributed across the EU. They have, for example, varied from a peak of 425 000 applications for EU-27 States in 2001 down to under 200 000 in 2006. In 2012, there were over 330 000.
Asylum must not be a lottery. EU Member States have a shared responsibility to welcome asylum seekers in a dignified manner, ensuring they are treated fairly and that their case is examined to uniform standards so that, no matter where an applicant applies, the outcome will be similar.
The EU as an area of protection
Since 1999, the EU has been working to create a Common European Asylum System (CEAS) and improve the current legislative framework.
New EU rules have now been agreed, setting out common high standards and stronger co-operation to ensure that asylum seekers are treated equally in an open and fair system – wherever they apply.
2. Asylum Procedures Directive
What is the asylum procedures directive?
The Asylum Procedures Directive sets out rules on the whole process of claiming asylum, including on: how to apply, how the application will be examined, what help the asylum seeker will be given, how to appeal and whether the appeal will allow the person to stay on the territory, what can be done if the applicant absconds, or how to deal with repeated applications. The previous Directive was the lowest common denominator between Member States at the time. The rules were often too vague and derogations allowed Member States to keep their own rules, even if these went below basic agreed standards.
The new Asylum Procedures Directive is much more precise. It creates a coherent system, which ensures that asylum decisions are made more efficiently and more fairly and that all Member States examine applications with a common high quality standard.
It sets clearer rules on how to apply for asylum: there have to be specific arrangements, for example at borders, to make sure that everyone who wishes to request asylum can do so quickly and effectively. Procedures will be both faster and more efficient. Normally, an asylum procedure will not be longer than six months. There will be better training for decision-makers and more early help for the applicant, so that the claim can be fully examined quickly. These investments will save money overall, because asylum seekers will spend less time in state-sponsored reception systems and there will be fewer wrong decisions, so fewer costly appeals.
Anyone in need of special help - for example because of their age, disability, illness, sexual orientation, or traumatic experiences will receive adequate support, including sufficient time, to explain their claim. Unaccompanied children will be appointed a qualified representative by the national authorities.
Cases that are unlikely to be well-founded can be dealt with in special procedures (‘accelerated’ and ‘border’ procedures). There are clear rules on when these procedures can be applied, to avoid well-founded cases being covered. Unaccompanied children seeking asylum and victims of torture benefit from special treatment in this respect.
Rules on appeals in front of courts are much clearer than previously. Currently, EU law is vague and national systems do not always guarantee enough access to courts. As a result, many cases end up in with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which is costly and creates legal uncertainty. The new rules fully comply with fundamental rights and should reduce pressure on the Strasbourg court.
Member States will also become better equipped to deal with abusive claims, in particular with repetitive applications by the same person. Someone who does not need protection will no longer be able to prevent removal indefinitely by continuously making new asylum applications.
3. Reception conditions directive
What is the reception conditions directive?
The Reception Conditions Directive deals with access to reception conditions for asylum seekers while they wait for the examination of their claim. It ensures that applicants have access to housing, food, health care and employment, as well as medical and psychological care. In the past, diverging practices among Member States could however lead to an inadequate level of material reception conditions for asylum seekers.
The new Reception Conditions Directive aims to ensure better as well as more harmonised standards of reception conditions throughout the Union.
For the first time, detailed common rules have been adopted on the issue of detention of asylum seekers, ensuring that their fundamental rights are fully respected. In particular, it:
The new Directive also clarifies the obligation to conduct an individual assessment in order to identify the special reception needs of vulnerable persons. It provides particular attention to unaccompanied minors and victims of torture and ensures that vulnerable asylum seekers can also access psychological support. Finally, it includes rules on the qualifications of the representatives for unaccompanied minors.
Access to employment for an asylum seeker must now be granted within a maximum period of 9 months.
4. Qualification Directive
What is the qualification directive?
The Qualification Directive specifies the grounds for granting international protection. Its provisions also foresee a series of rights on protection from refoulement, residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, access to education, social welfare, healthcare, access to accommodation, access to integration facilities, as well as specific provisions for children and vulnerable persons. The minimum standards in the previous Directive were to a certain extent vague, which maintained divergences in national asylum legislation and practices. The chances of a person to be granted international protection could vary tremendously depending on the Member State processing the asylum application.
5. Dublin Regulation
What is the Dublin Regulation?
The core principle of the Dublin Regulation is that the responsibility for examining claim lies primarily with the Member State which played the greatest part in the applicant’s entry or residence in the EU. The criteria for establishing responsibility run, in hierarchical order, from family considerations, to recent possession of visa or residence permit in a Member State, to whether the applicant has entered EU irregularly, or regularly. Experience of the previous system has however shown the need to better address situations of particular pressure on Member States' reception capacities and asylum systems.
The new Dublin contains sound procedures for the protection of asylum applicants and improves the system’s efficiency through:
What is EURODAC?
The EURODAC Regulation establishes an EU asylum fingerprint database. When someone applies for asylum, no matter where they are in the EU, their fingerprints are transmitted to the EURODAC central system. EURODAC has been operating since 2003 and has proved a very successful IT tool. Some updates were however required, in particular to reduce the delay of transmission by some Member States, to address data protection concerns and to help combat terrorism and serious crime.
The new Regulation improves the regular functioning of EURODAC.
Statement by Commissioner Malmström
Cecilia Malmström's website
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DG Home Affairs website
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