The urgency of responsible sharing and reform of the asylum system

The urgency of responsible sharing and reform of the asylum system

Is it time for the Common European Asylum System to be reformed?

Since 1999, the European Union has been working on a Common European Asylum System by improving the legal framework aimed at the protection of asylum seekers within the European territory. Through a set of important Directives and Regulations, specific rules have been implemented by setting higher standards and stronger cooperation. Amongst these, the Dublin Regulation, the most problematic,  indicates that the responsibility for examining a claim lies with the Member State that played a major role in the entry of the applicant within the European territory. Is it time for the Common European Asylum System to be reformed?

The second phase of asylum legislation provided for better procedures and qualifications in relation to asylum applications. However, it made no real improvement in assessing the problematic issue of the Dublin Regulation’s procedures. Even at the moment of its actual implementation, too much burden was put on Southern Member States where most asylum seekers first lay their step into Europe (between 15% of the entire amount of refugees). The Dublin criteria are based on mutual trust between Member States. However, although mutual trust implies cooperation between Member States, the Southern part of Europe, due to the high amount of arrivals and its precarious economic conditions, has never been adequately supported in sharing the burden.  When facing the serious emergency of the last years, the System has been characterised by general unpreparedness, not only when considering the inadequate detention conditions, lack of access to legal assistance, social and health assistance of asylum seekers, but also when dealing with the Dublin and Schengen criteria and objectives. The major effect of such unpreparedness was exemplified when Member States disregarded the Dublin system by accepting Syrian asylum seekers although those States were not first port of entry. In fact, according to the Dublin Regulation, asylum seekers who have moved to another Member State, can face deportation to the first State of entry.

The European Commission has worked on possible solutions in order to find a more practical remedy to the refugee crisis. It has mainly focused on redistribution of asylum seekers, on a budgetary support to particular agencies such as the European Asylum Support Office and Frontex, to the implementation of European law and to external dimensions agreements. In addition to that it has made agreements with third countries in order to reinforce transit and to combat smuggling. It is self-evident that the European Commission has focused on assessing the main issues at stake such as refugee relocation and border control aid. The measures engaged seem to be oriented towards a burden sharing approach, and future plans still seem to engage further possibilities. In fact, the European Commission plans to establish a European Border and Coast Guard, to guarantee an extension of the Frontex mandate, through enforcing the application of the Common European Asylum System to its Member States. These measures seem the adequate approach to the solution and management of the refugee crisis. Yet, measures and leaders’ meeting alone are not enough.

A fortification of Europe’s borders is not the solution to the refugee crisis. The response of certain Member States with re-instatement of border control is not the real issue at stake. What needs to be dealt with is a clear redistribution of responsibility. The Common European Asylum System can only effectively work when all the Member States will cooperate together in a burden-sharing approach towards such crisis. Thus external border control and asylum applications must be addressed jointly by Member States and not independently. It is well known that certain Member States such as Hungary or Poland are not in favour of any cooperation or burden-sharing approach. How can such issue be solved? Relocation alone is not enough. A better approach could include a system of burden sharing by task, according to which reluctant Member States would take various responsibility in the various stages of the asylum procedures. Other solutions could be the creation of a common fund in order to finance asylum procedures in the various Member States together with a specific deal on an effective resettlement.  In order for the Common European Asylum System to live on, it is necessary that the European Member States act jointly towards a more burden-sharing approach. It is also fundamental that the Commission continues its budgetary and organisational support to agencies such as the European Asylum Support Office and Frontex in order for them to contribute actively in dealing with the management of asylum seekers and external border control. However, most importantly, it is highly recommendable that the European Union, when having to put forward a further reform of the Dublin Regulation, provides ad hoc responses to emergency situations and through systematic responsibility-sharing between Member States.

Finding a solution to such crisis is definitely not easy: however, it must be an impulse to a major burden-sharing responsibility and to a legal reform of the Common European Asylum System, particularly with regards to the functioning of the Dublin Regulation.

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