Talks gridlocked over reception conditions
By Nathalie Vandystadt | Thursday 28 June 2012
Like others before it, the Danish EU Presidency has run into trouble on the asylum package, at least on part of this set of draft directives, some of which date from 2008, that would strengthen the rights of asylum seekers in a harmonised manner in Europe. The Cyprus Presidency will thus take over the issue, the goal still being to adopt the package by the end of 2012.
The European Parliament’s rapporteurs had hoped to announce an agreement on a proposal modifying the conditions for reception of asylum applicants in the EU, on the morning of 28 June, but that did not happen. The day before, the three negotiators – Copenhagen, the EP rapporteurs and the Commission – stumbled on two points in the text: 1. the Commission’s proposal, approved by the EP, to impose on member states the automatic review by a court – after 72 hours – of a decision by an administrative court to detain an asylum applicant. The EP made concessions by agreeing to such review “as soon as possible,” but always automatically. The Council refused, arguing that certain countries would have legal problems; 2. EP and Commission want states to organise a medical and psychological exam, like what exists in the Netherlands, to identify vulnerable individuals (pregnant women, people who are ill), but whose vulnerability is not necessarily visible. The Council agrees on the need to identify them, but does not wish to guarantee such exams for everyone or at the start of the procedure.
“Parliament and the Commission would like to see asylum budgets double and more public servants hired,” said an annoyed diplomatic source. “The EU is in the process of adopting higher standards when some countries don’t even comply with existing rules,” added the source. Greece, whose reform of asylum and immigration systems is under evaluation by the Commission, is singled out for failure to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. Since the January 2010 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, ‘Dublin’ transfers to Greece have been suspended, although EU legislation permits such returns of applicants to the European country of entry.
POINTS OF AGREEMENT
EP, Council and Commission are thought to agree on the rest of the directive, under discussion since 2008, particularly on five conditions and reasons that can justify the detention of an asylum seeker:
- to determine identity and nationality
- in the initial review, to check whether the person’s story is true
- the time needed to decide whether the person has the right to enter the territory
- for reasons of law and order (eg to check whether the person is not suspected of terrorism elsewhere)
- when the states have objective reason to believe that the person is applying for asylum to avoid being sent back to his home country.
The detention of children under the age of 18 would be banned unless it is in their interests (if their parents are detained, for example). Unaccompanied minors may not be detained.
More surprising for a proposal that is meant to strengthen applicants’ rights, the compromise is believed to establish the possibility to detain adults in prisons if there is no room available in reception centres. The only guarantees are that these individuals would be housed separately from prisoners and would have access to open areas and leisure activities. States would also have to avoid wherever possible placing vulnerable individuals in prisons. If there are no other options, these vulnerable persons must be given an individual cell.
Another point of agreement is that asylum seekers will have to be given access to the labour market after nine months. The legislators thus meet halfway, since the states were demanding 12 months and the Commission proposed six. The Romanian and Bulgarian delegations nevertheless obtained a subtlety: when a job is available, the member state can give priority to European citizens.
Lastly, EU law will guarantee access to free legal assistance from the initial review of the application (only available at the appeal stage in the past). But member states reserve the right to refuse it for “objective reasons,” if the applicant’s story is incoherent, for example. Material assistance (pocket money, clothing, food), to be determined by the states, will be guaranteed. It may be suspended if the applicant fails to show up when convened by immigration authorities but will be restored when the applicant appears. Aid may also be halted if the asylum seeker has lied about his lack of resources.
Europolitics will present details on the rest of the package in an upcoming issue.