EU border policies lead to collapse of over-worked asylum systems


Greece has announced plans to build a wall along the border with Turkey to stop unwanted immigration.  According to Swedish MEP, Cecilia Wikström, this policy is horrendous. In December, she visited Greece and was shocked by the crisis that emerged when the country's asylum system collapsed. But building a wall is not the solution, she added.

The EU common asylum policy is scheduled to be implemented in 2012. Unfortunately, internal disputes are causing difficulties in introducing laws to make this policy work.  The EU Commission and Parliament have focused on the need to respect asylum rights and humane conditions for refugees while EU states, headed by France and Germany, are more eager to stop undocumented migration and uphold current EU asylum laws, than about introducing new higher standards of protection.  Strengthening border controls could threaten the right to asylum, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has warned governments, pointing out that the number of people who managed to reach Europe across the Mediterranean fell by almost three quarters in 2010. Meanwhile, it increased nearly fivefold through the Greek-Turkish border.

Another issue of concern is the txternalisation of asylum.  A reliance on third countries to manage asylum flows has had two major consequences. First, thousands of mainly African migrants have been left stranded in Mediterranean countries such as Libya, Algeria and Morocco where they continue to try to reach Europe.  "These migrants are trapped by Europe’s border policy – they cannot get in and they cannot go

home", said Jesuit Refugee Service Europe Senior Advocacy Officer, Stefan Kessler.  JRS Europe recently conducted interviews with people trapped in North Africa, where they now live in atrocious conditions, without any rights.

The second consequence is the total collapse of the asylum system in Greece, where tens of thousands of asylum seekers are sleeping on the street.  In line with the Dublin Regulation, a backbone of EU asylum law, asylum seekers who arrive into Europe via Greece are sent back there to have their applications assessed. This is something Ms Wikström wants to see halted.  She wants to introduce a clause into the Dublin Regulation that suspends all transfers to countries unable to cope with the number of applications they receive, such as Greece.

According to Stefan Kessler, "the EU and its member states should, as an act of solidarity with Greece, relocate those seeking protection from that country to other parts of the EU", while urging Athens to improve its poor asylum system.  Source: JESUIT REFUGEE SERVICE, Rome, 14 January 2011