Asylum: The EU must pull itself together


Statement ahead of the European Council of June 28-29 2018

Ahead of the negotiations on the new Dublin system that Member States will hold in the next European Council, Caritas Europa calls on EU Member States to stay true to the founding values of the European Union by designing a new equitable and transparent system that enhances solidarity and responsibility sharing among EU Member States. The reformed Dublin should provide quick and fair access to the asylum procedure, without discrimination and have at its core the right to family unity and the best interests of the child.

The time for change is now and EU leaders must overcome their individual interests to find a European compromise that works for everyone; under normal circumstances and in times of increased arrivals” says Shannon Pfohman, Caritas Europa’s Policy and Advocacy Director.

The current Dublin system has been a fiasco so far. The bureaucratic and expensive system has encouraged the shifting of responsibilities among Member States and triggered too many personal tragedies among the people in need of safety in Europe. The quarrel between Member States over the disembarking of the Aquarius, carrying 629 people on board is the last shameful example of this situation.

The flawed Dublin system has put in an extremely difficult situation EU bordering Member States, such as Italy and Greece, which are de facto responsible for the processing of most asylum applications. This has triggered strained relations among Member States, with the bordering countries asking for more solidarity and the others hiding behind the system to keep the status quo. In the meantime, asylum seekers are paying an immense price. Many are separated from their families. Unaccompanied children disappear in the net of criminal gangs. Others end up living in limbo situations transferred from one country to another or are pushed into destitution out of fear of being returned to the first country of arrival.

The anxiety and the huge psychological distress that the Dublin system is creating are blatant in the following testimonies from migrants, supported by Caritas France:

Because of Dublin, I am not a human being anymore, I am just endlessly roaming within Europe” (Bilal, Afghanistan, 10 years in Europe).

When I hear the name of Dublin, I become sick and I don’t want to talk to anyone for a while, because as long as I’m under a Dublin procedure, I cannot be normal and I’m afraid of the police all the time” (Jabarkhail, Afghanistan).

It is extremely worrying that some EU Member States are promoting the infamous Australian model to be duplicated in Europe, instead of trying to improve the Dublin system and increase the level of protection and solidarity within the EU. “Discussions should not drift towards the slippery slope of shifting away EU Member States’ international asylum responsibilities to neighbouring countries. The Geneva Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights must remain at the core of every single EU action”, says Shannon Pfohman.

EU Member States must pull themselves together and defend a European asylum system based on solidarity, human dignity and responsibility sharing. This is the EU we want!

  • The Dublin regulation under negotiation determines which Member State is responsible to handle an asylum application. The Council and European Parliament are co-legislators on this file. The European Parliament adopted its own position in November 2017, introducing a compulsory relocation mechanism (See EP rapporteur, MEP Cecilia Wikström’s summary here). Due to strong divergences among EU Member States, the Council has not been able to agree on a Council negotiating position so far, hampering the start of the trialogue negotiations with the European Parliament and the European Commission. The European Commission expected the European Council end of June to find a political agreement on solidarity and responsibility sharing.
  • In the past few months, several EU Member States have argued for copying the Australian asylum model in Europe. Under this system, boats of asylum seekers intercepted at Sea are pushed back to offshore processing centres in the islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea, where they are detained in horrendous conditions while their asylum application is being processed. UNHCR and several human rights organisations have severely criticised this model.
  • Caritas Europa’s recommendations on the reform of the Dublin regulation include:
    • Reform the criteria to determine the EU Member State responsible, taking into account family ties, the best interest of the child and applicant’s preferences and ties to a certain EU Member State instead of using the irregular entry criteria;
    • Design a fair and efficient relocation solidarity mechanism to alleviate the pressure on frontline Member States and suspend the Dublin transfers to a country overstretched;
    • Prioritise family unity and family reunification in the Dublin system (including when implementing Dublin III) and expand the definition of family;
    • Prioritise the best interest of the child, assessed through a multidisciplinary approach by a qualified team, and assign as soon as possible a guardian to unaccompanied minor;
    • Avoid pre-Dublin admissibility procedure aimed at assessing if an applicant comes from a safe third country or first country of asylum;
    • Ensure a fair and effective remedy and safeguards and delete punitive measures in case of secondary movement;
    • Explore alternatives to detention and never detain children;
    • Improve the implementation of Dublin III by using its flexibilities such as the dependency clause and the discretionary clauses to ensure a more humane and efficient system.