Saturday, September 6, 2008

Fresh EU proposals on asylum get wide support

Brussels, June 23 - There was general acceptance for the new European Commission proposals to streamline the process of treating asylum seekers in different EU member states. Struggling to formulate a common asylum policy for more than a decade, today this process varies across 27 Member States with Sweden on the most welcoming side of the asylum granting spectrum while Greece falls at the other end.

Highlighting the publication of the Policy Plan on Asylum, an integrated approach to protection in Europe, before World Refugee Day, celebrated around the world on June 20, Bjarte Vandvik, Secretary General of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) said in a statement: “The political momentum to develop high asylum standards obviously exists and ECRE is ready to continue cooperating with the European Commission and other stakeholders to achieve a meaningful European asylum system.”

Launching the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), Jacques Barrot, the European Commissioner for freedom, security and justice, said, “With this Policy Plan the Commission launches the second phase of the Common European Asylum System, whose overarching objectives are to uphold and reinforce the Union’s humanitarian and protection tradition and to achieve a true level playing field for protection across the EU. “This means that we will have to improve the common legislative standards, increasing the quality of decision making by supporting practical cooperation between national asylum administrations and fostering more solidarity between the Member States and between the EU and third countries in receiving refugee flows.”

The first phase of the CEAS (1999-2004) had given established “common minimum standards in areas such as reception conditions for asylum seekers, asylum procedures and the requirements to qualify as a person needing international protection, as well as rules for the determination of the Member State responsible for an asylum application (the so-called Dublin system,)” according to Commission documents. Moreover, with the French Presidency taking over in a few weeks on July 1, there are better hopes that there will be action on the proposals which include the creation of a European Support Office on Asylum, an EUwide resettlement scheme and measures to help member states and third countries that host a high number of refugees.

The proposals will be put to the European Council on October 15 2008 during French presidency and will, in the course of 2009, feed into a new five-year Programme in the Justice, Freedom and Security area. Commenting on the proposals, Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, said: “The Migration Package adopted today shows that we need to take a new approach to dealing with Immigration and Asylum.” Stressing, “Europe needs a common policy vision which builds on past achievements and aims at providing a more coherent and integrated framework for future action by the Member States and the European Union, Barroso said he hoped that, “If we work together on the ten principles to better manage immigration and reinforce the standards for protection of asylum seekers we will make tangible improvements in these crucial areas.”

According to a report published by the UNHCR in March 2008, Asylum levels and trends in industrialised countries 2007, the number of individuals requesting refugee or asylum status in Europe and non-European industrialised countries increased by 10 percent in 2007 in comparison to 2006. This is the first increase in five years and follows a 20-year low observed in 2006. Despite this increase, the 2007 level is only half the level witnessed in 2001. The rise in 2007 can by and large be attributed to the sharp rise in Iraqi asylum-seekers. If Iraqi asylum seekers were to be excluded from the analysis, the increase in 2007 would only have been two percent.

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