Reception conditions for asylum seekers: Council has not given in
By Nathalie Vandystadt | Tuesday 17 July 2012
The member states have not given in on either of the two points that were still unsettled in the talks on a draft directive on the conditions of reception of asylum seekers in the EU.
According to the Cyprus Presidency, there will not be an automatic revision by a judge – after 72 hours – of a decision to detain an asylum seeker when such as decision has been made by an administrative court – as MEPs had asked (see
Europolitics4454). And while EU countries will be forced to identify the specific needs of vulnerable asylum seekers, such as pregnant women, these persons will not benefit from a separate administrative procedure. Asylum seekers with psychological problems will be considered as forming part of the vulnerable groups. Thus, in the talks, the European Parliament has lost over two points. This allowed Nicosia to announce, on 13 July, an agreement among the 27 on a compromise negotiated with the EP rapporteurs. The new Presidency of the EU issued a statement saying that “the act aims to provide for more harmonised and higher standards for the reception of asylum seekers among EU member states while at the same time preventing abuse and avoiding unnecessary administrative burdens”. Indeed, the Council and the EP had already agreed on other points of the text, such as access to the labour market after nine months and free legal assistance as soon as the application has been examined in first instance.
CRITICISM OF DETENTION
The detention conditions of asylum seekers had also been agreed. Namely, the ban on detaining a child of under 18, except if it is in the child’s interest (if the child’s parents are detained, for example), and the ban on detaining unaccompanied minors. The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) – which is made up of NGOs specialised in this field – is extremely critical about the detention criteria, denouncing the absurdity of being allowed to detain asylum seekers to determine their identity and nationality. In reality, since 90% of those seeking protection in the EU arrive clandestinely, this would be tantamount to authorising the systematic detention of asylum seekers.
The ECRE also regrets the existing possibility, highlighted by its experts, of detaining unaccompanied minors and putting asylum seekers in prisons when space is lacking in specialised centres. The ECRE denounces the fact that European standards are much lower than what is recommended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on the protection of vulnerable persons relating to detention. And yet the Commission had proposed using UN standards, by making the detention of vulnerable people conditional on the opinion of an independent expert, who would have to vouch that their state of health would not deteriorate.
The compromise on this directive will still have to be endorsed by an exchange of letters between the Cyprus Presidency and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) of Parliament. The text will then have to be voted in plenary in the autumn. It is part of the asylum package, which - according to the member states’ commitments - should be adopted by the end of 2012, thus establishing the Common European Asylum System (CEAS).
At the request of the Cyprus Presidency, the member states’ ministers of the interior will debate, at an informal meeting on 23-24 July in Nicosia, the situation of Syrian refugees fleeing their conflict-torn country. The UNHCR was also asked for an assessment, and has just published a report on the 112,000 refugees, mainly women and children, registered or hosted recueillis by four neighbouring countries (Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan) – ie over three times more than in April. According to the UNHCR, the figure is in fact much higher, since in general people only register when they have no resources. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) will also be represented during the ministers’ meeting.