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IMMIGRATION : ASYLUM: COMMISSION PUTS REFUGEES BACK AT HEART OF SYSTEM.

Believing that in Europe the "procedure is little concerned with asylum applicants," the European Commission proposed, on 3 December, improving the Dublin II(1) system, which is considered to be unfair to refugees. At the same time, the EU executive wants to reinforce the protection of the most vulnerable (unaccompanied children and single women, in particular) and calls for family reunification and free legal assistance.

"Our objective is to place asylum applicants at the heart of a more human and fair procedure," explained EU Justice, Liberty and Security Commissioner Jacques Barrot.

Created in 2003 to avoid multiple demands, the Dublin regulation determines the member state responsible for examining an application (in this case, the first host country'). But some countries, entranceways to the EU such as Cyprus and southern Malta (and therefore often the first host country'), are inundated by applications that they usually reject. "In some countries, like Italy, Sweden and Malta, 50% of applications have a positive response. But in others, like Slovenia, Slovakia and Greece, this percentage is 3%," stressed the commissioner.

For Barrot, "there is an injustice as all countries do not have the same burden, but it is also unfair to asylum applicants". Therefore, he explained, a Chechnyan has a 72% chance of being protected in Austria, but practically no chance in Slovakia. An Iraqi has more chance of being protected in Sweden than in Greece, he said.

As for injustice between countries: Cyprus (700,000 inhabitants) must face 8.69 asylum applications annually for 1,000 inhabitants and Malta 3.38 applications for 1,000 inhabitants (they are 400,000 in total) against 3.97 in Sweden (ten million inhabitants). The European average is 0.45 applications for 1,000 inhabitants.

POSSIBILITY OF SUSPENSION

Dublin would remain in force, but it would be relaxed. In concrete terms, in the future the Commission wants an asylum applicant to have the possibility of having his application examined in the country in which he finds himself (which is often different from his point of arrival) and of stressing the presence of close or distant family in other member states. In this case, the state that appraises the application can transfer the applicant not to the first host country but to the country where his family is living, explained the commissioner.

The proposal also reinforces the right to a transfer decision as well as free legal assistance (with the obligation to have an interpreter).

Moreover, the proposal sets out the possibility of suspending' the system: in the event of inundation in a member state, like in Malta and Cyprus, applicant transfers could be suspended through a decision mechanism between the Commission and the member states (comitology). Also, if the asylum system does not offer adequate guarantees of protection, the transfer can be avoided (this is what happened when Sweden questioned the Commission on the possibility of suspending asylum transfers to Greece, where asylum applications were not dealt with correctly).

POCKET MONEY

The Commission also intends to limit detentions to exceptional and clearly defined cases (threat to public order, for example), or when they are ordered by a judge, with a right to appeal and regular legal control. It also intends to ban detention for minors except if it is in their interest (to rejoin their parents in detention). The Commission also facilitates access to the labour market for asylum applicants, by reducing the procedure from one year to six months, while leaving the management of access to member states (revision of Directive 2003/9/EC on minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers). The commissioner also insisted that "pocket money" be given to asylum applicants.

Finally, the 2000 Eurodac Regulation would be reinforced to allow the prompt transmission of fingerprints to Eurodac's central unit, so as to correctly identify the member state responsible for the application, to better protect data and remove those which are no longer necessary.

A table is available at www.europolitics.info > Search = 239195

(1) Known as Dublin II because Regulation 343/2003 replaces the Dublin Convention of 1990
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Publication:European Report
Date:Dec 4, 2008
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