Due to the expiration of the Stockholm Programme at the end of 2014, the European Council will adopt in June strategic guidelines indicating the way forward in the area of Justice and Home Affairs in the EU. In the context of the debate on the future of Home Affairs policies, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström hosted the conference “An open and secure Europe-what next?” that was held on January 29th and 30th, 2014. This conference brought together representatives of Member States, Members of the European Parliament and national Parliaments, other EU Institutions, international organisations, civil society organisations…
One of the topics of the conference was the Legal Routes to Access Asylum in Europe.
Commissioner Malmström opened the conference by declaring that “we will need to step up our efforts to avoid last year’s tragedy in Lampedusa from happening again. We need a Europe that is open to the world, a Europe that ensures the human rights of any individual fleeing conflict and persecution. Today asylum seekers have to rely far too often on traffickers in order to reach Europe. There are basically no legal ways to get to Europe. We need to reflect on how we can ensure a more orderly arrival of those people who have strong claims to reach Europe safely.”
Michael Diedring, Secretary General of the European Council on Refugees and Migrants – ECRE, said that “legal and safe channels for migrants and asylum seekers will literally be the difference between life and death”. Diedring argued that, in order to ensure maximum impact, all channels for facilitating access to protection should be used simultaneously, including the suspension of visa restrictions for nationals and residents of countries experiencing a significant upheaval or humanitarian crisis and more flexible family reunification rules.
António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees at the beginning of his speech, said: “Although it is true that the number of asylum seekers in the 28 Member States has increased in 2013, they still only make up a small proportion of the global refugee population. Some 43,000 Syrian refugees claimed asylum in one of the European countries, some of whom had already been legally residing in the EU. This compares to over 1.7 million new arrivals registered in countries neighbouring Syria during the same period, meaning Europe received some 2.5 % of the refugees that the countries in the immediate region had to cope with last year.”
“First, and most important, is ensuring effective access for for refugees that seek protection in the EU countries. 25 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, we see new walls being erected in Europe to prevent irregular migration, which too often also prevent people fleeing war or persecution from seeking safety. Therefore, I appeal to Member States to respect the principles underpinning the Common European Asylum System, which are based not on walls, fences and additional administrative barriers, but on the human rights values of this continent”, said António Guterres.
“What I am also concerned about is the large number of readmission agreements with countries located just at the external EU border that lack the capacity to offer effective reception and protection to refugees”, added António Guterres.
“Second, there needs to be more respect for the principle of free movement for asylum seekers that is contained in the recast directive on reception conditions. Detention should be used only as a last resort and on the basis of an individual assessment, and only if alternatives cannot be applied effectively”, said United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
António Guterres also said that: “There must be more effective intra-European solidarity on asylum matters. Although European countries also suffer the burden of the global economic crisis, Europe has a collective responsibility to provide protection to those who have lost it in their own countries. It should use the capacities of other actors, particularly local authorities and NGOs which often provide the most effective services in terms of reception and integration. Solidarity measures must also contain more effective early warning and emergency response, which – if it had existed a few years ago – could have helped to prevent what is currently happening in Greece and Bulgaria. Current dysfunction of the asylum system in European countries not only limits protection, but it penalizes the countries with the best asylum systems”.
“There is also upcoming opportunity in 2015 to formally review the implementation of the Dublin agreement. An effective system to determine responsibilities for asylum claims in the EU countries can only work if the Common European Asylum System exists in practice”, said the High Commissioner of UNHCR.
António Guterres finished his speech by saying:” Last but not least, is the question of more effective integration of persons who have been granted international protection in the EU. The lack of adequate integration support is one of the serious problems, not to mention that in several EU countries, the integration of these people does not exist. EU countries need to do more in combat extremist views that blame all social and security problems on the presence of foreigners. Fighting racism and xenophobia must not be confined to concerned civil society. Governments, mainstream political parties and responsible media must assume this responsibility with courage and determination.