Asylum reform: Death of refugee protection by a thousand cuts?
The current political context is not conducive to a calm reflection on asylum policies. While refugees have arrived by hundreds of thousands in Europe, and keep on coming, public opinion is greatly divided. Meanwhile, the EU has regrettably failed to articulate a coherent policy. The EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan, a 2016 agreement designed to limit the flow of migrants from Turkey into the EU, is symbolic of a lowering of ethical standards with regards to refugees. The proposed package of reforms to the Common European Asylum System continues this trend of dismantling safeguards to protect refugees.
So how should the Church and civil society respond? On 30 January 2017, JRS Europe published a Working Paper that challenges and proposes alternatives to the overly restrictive paths taken by the EU and certain Member States. Taken from the Working Paper, the following are five key areas that should inform the necessary debate about the EU’s responsibilities towards forced migrants.
Stop outsourcing refugee protection responsibilities
The guiding principle of EU migration policies should be to extend international protection to all forced migrants who fulfil the criteria under the 1951 Geneva Convention. For the EU to “outsource” its responsibility to so-called “safe third countries” is to undermine the EU’s responsibilities. JRS Europe believes that outsourcing migration responsibilities to non-EU countries is not only often detrimental to vulnerable people but also portrays the EU as reactive and politically indecisive. A policy proposing that migrants have “sufficient protection” in non-EU countries can never replace the responsibility to ensure “effective protection”.
Design a system that is fairer to refugees
JRS Europe is opposed to the current situation in which asylum applicants lose the right to appeal against a refusal issued in a country where they first entered, if the asylum applicant has subsequently moved to another EU country. It is a sanction that is particularly harmful to cases involving children. JRS Europe believes that any asylum claims in which children are involved should always be heard in the country where they are currently present, and not at the first country of arrival.
Demonstrate greater solidarity to EU States who take in more refugees
Another way the EU can demonstrate greater solidarity with refugees is to modify the so-called “fairness mechanism”, a system which seeks to allocate asylum applications among Member States. JRS Europe argues that the EU should lower the thresholds for allocating extra resources to Member States who exceed their refugee intake.
Prioritise social inclusion of refugees
JRS Europe is concerned with various measures in the EU’s package of asylum reforms that will prove harmful to the integration prospects of forced migrants. An example is a proposed system of “compulsory status reviews” in which Member States are required to verify whether there is a continuing need for protection of refugees from certain countries.
JRS Europe believes that such measures would act as a disincentive for both Member States and refugees to commit to social inclusion processes. JRS Europe also believes that social integration would be helped if the right of permanent residence for refugees who find themselves in a Member State other than the Member State that gave them initial protection should be reduced from five to two years.
Eliminate disproportionate and excessive use of detention
It is JRS Europe’s view that detention of refugees in reception facilities has proved costly and ineffective. Detention causes social and psychological damage to refugees, especially those who are part of a family group, children, those who are elderly, and those with disabilities. Detention should be only ever be used as a last resort but has sadly become the primary one. JRS Europe believes that detention should be replaced by mechanisms that allow for quicker integration, interaction with local communities and help to recover a sense of dignity.
José Ignacio Garcia, SJ
Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service Europe
EN The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.