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Rapporteurs call for JHA Council meeting on 14 September to prioritise human rights

PACE rapporteurs, welcoming proposals to reform EU asylum policy, call for JHA Council meeting on 14 September to prioritise human rights

Michele Nicoletti (Italy, SOC) and Tineke Strik, (Netherlands, SOC), following the adoption by the PACE Migration Committee of their reports respectively on “After Dublin – the urgent need for a realty European asylum system” and “Countries of transit: meeting new migration and asylum challenges”, today welcomed the latest proposals to reform EU asylum policy, whilst calling on Monday’s meeting of the EU justice and home affairs council to prioritise protection of the human rights of refugees and migrants.

“Despite the lack of detail, I was pleased to hear Mr Juncker call for a fundamental change in the Dublin system”, said Mr Nicoletti. “The current challenges have led the Dublin system to collapse. In the light of events, the EU should consider formally abandoning the ‘first country of entry’ criterion. In order to avoid concentrations of asylum applicants in those countries whose reception conditions and asylum procedures satisfy European standards, there is an urgent need for effective harmonisation across all European states, with far greater EU financial and technical support. The ‘hotspots’ proposal may help the countries most exposed, but it must ensure fair, unprejudiced status determination procedures even in accelerated cases, and should not be linked to the dysfunctional Dublin system.”

Both Mr Nicoletti and Ms Strik welcomed the announcement of a second emergency relocation mechanism and a permanent crisis relocation mechanism.

“Unfortunately, none of these proposals addresses equitable distribution of recognised refugees”, observed Mr Nicoletti. “The EU should consider creating a status of ‘European refugee’ or providing for mutual recognition by member states of positive refugee status decisions. Further measures to harmonise social welfare and integration policies would then be needed to reduce disparities that may provoke unbalanced secondary movements. Refugees are not sheep passively to be herded but rational, dynamic human beings; having taken the dramatic step of abandoning their homes, property and livelihoods under traumatic duress, they will not stop until their safety and dignity are guaranteed – and we cannot blame them for that.”

Ms Strik said that “the EU must fully recognise the importance of co-operating with countries of origin and transit on refugee protection and not just security and border control. There are good reasons for refugees to stay close to their homeland. But if we do not give countries of first asylum like Turkey – a Council of Europe member –, Lebanon and Jordan the support they need, conditions for refugees there will deteriorate further, and more and more will seek the relative safety and security of Europe. Europe should also, through generous resettlement programmes, accept its fair share of responsibility for refugees, rather than forcing them to risk their lives before they reach safety.”

“The countries of transit in the Western Balkans and Central Europe also need EU support. This should not be conditional upon readmitting asylum seekers who had reached the EU, which would, absurdly, be a kind of new Dublin system for returns to transit countries: one can imagine how badly and unfairly that would work”, she continued. “We cannot expect these countries to cope when we already know that many of them have seriously defective asylum systems. Refugees also appreciate this, and we cannot be surprised if they pass through as quickly as possible, even in the face of ever harsher border controls. What is even worse, however, is when countries deliberately discourage refugees from remaining through hostile, xenophobic statements and policies: this is a wilful affront to the values of the Council of Europe and a selfish threat to European solidarity”.

“I also urge caution in expanding the role and activities of Frontex”, she concluded. “There have been credible reports of unlawful push-backs during Frontex-coordinated operations. Until proper human rights safeguards are in place, Frontex should not be asked to take on functions of national authorities.”

The Rapporteurs also welcomed Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland’s guidance to the Council of Europe’s 47 member States. “This shows the key role of the Council of Europe in promoting respect for human rights in European migration and asylum policy”, said Mr Nicoletti. “The European Court of Human Rights, for example, has led the way in ensuring that states avoid serious violations when implementing the Dublin Regulation.” According to Ms Strik, “the Council of Europe can also, for example, through its North-South Centre facilitate ‘triangular’, human rights-based dialogue between countries of origin, transit and destination”.

The two reports prepared by Mr Nicoletti and Ms Strik will be debated by the plenary Assembly during its forthcoming part-session (28 September – 2 October).