Europe asylum laws face scrutiny in migrant crisis

Agence France-Presse

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Europe asylum laws face scrutiny in migrant crisis
About 350,000 migrants were detected at the EU's borders between January and August this year

BRUSSELS, Belgium – Europe is facing its biggest refugee crisis since World War II, but the response by the 28-member European Union is hamstrung by a web of complicated rules governing asylum seekers.

Designed to reassure Europeans worried over any massive influx of immigrants, the rules, known as the Dublin system, are at breaking point, while individual countries have their own rules on how to grant asylum.

About 350,000 migrants were detected at the EU’s borders between January and August this year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Below is an overview of the regulatory labyrinth and challenges they must face:

Divided nations

Immigration and justice remain the cherished prerogative of individual EU member states, leaving a patchwork of policies that migrants must navigate to win asylum.

Rules protecting the basic rights of asylum seekers in the EU emerged after the Amsterdam treaty of 1997 set down general principles. These included special rights for minors, an obligation to consider an application within 6 months, as well as a work permit for applicants after 9 months of a pending request for asylum.

But the so-called Dublin rules, named after a summit in 1990 and updated in 2003, were a turning point for EU policy toward refugees.

The Dublin regulation sets out how a member state must handle an asylum request and, in the vast majority of cases, applicants must remain and be processed in the European country in which they first entered.

This naturally puts huge pressure on countries such as Italy, Greece and any other entryways for migrants fleeing poverty or war in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Policy patchwork

How these requests are handled and their likelihood of success varies widely from one country to the next, with colonial history even coming into play.

For example, in 2013, Somalis were granted asylum in only 17% of the cases in France, but 96% of the cases in Italy, which once ruled Somalia.

Also, the conditions for asylum seekers can very widely with some European nations offering a temporary home, stipend and job, and others preferring holding centres and close surveillance.

North vs South

Nations on the EU’s outer borders to the south and east complain that they receive an unfair burden of migrants, while the richer nations to the north and west insist they absorb most of the arrivals.

But for Germany and France, as well as the European Commission in Brussels, the burden must be shared more equally across all 28 member states.

“We see that Dublin is no longer really fit for purpose,” an EU source said, adding that even a failed proposal in June to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers was sorely inadequate.

But other countries, led by Hungary, insist that a predominantly Christian Europe, that is economically struggling, is ill-prepared to welcome mostly Muslim migrants and accuse other countries, most notably Germany, for feeding false hope.

“The lack of mutual trust between European states displayed this month has been alarming,” said Matthieu Tardis of the IFRI think-tank in Paris.

New rules

The shocking image of a dead toddler on a beach in Turkey has only heightened the calls to change and harmonise the asylum laws in Europe. Key powers Germany, France and Italy called for that this week, as well as a fairer distribution of migrants.

“We need an European asylum system,” said Jean Asselborn, the foreign minister for Luxembourg, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

For Marc Pierini at think-tank Carnegie Europe, the EU “needs to create migrant corridors and end this practice of transport by rubber dinghy” that has seen 2,600 drown in the Mediterranean this year.

On Wednesday, European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker will present his latest proposal in a eagerly awaited speech in European Parliament.

He will call for the relocation of 120,000 asylum seekers form the flashpoint countries of Greece, Italy and Hungary.

But the UN High Commissioner for Refugees called Friday on the EU to admit up to 200,000 refugees as part of a “mass relocation programme” that would be binding on bloc members. – 

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