Asylum – Current Pressures
and Future Perspectives
Excerpt from "Asylum – Current Pressures and Future Perspectives" by Laurent Muschel, published in Africa e Mediterraneo n. 80, "L'Italia e il sistema europeo comune di Asilo / Rwanda: vent'anni dal genocidio
We are living in a transformational time when it comes to asylum. Transformational because last year we adopted the second generation of EU laws on asylum. Transformational because we now have an Agency – the European Asylum Support Office – that is in a position to assist Member States facing difficult asylum situations by providing practical operational support. But most of all, transformational because Europe’s immediate neighbourhood is going through upheaval, in North Africa, in Syria and Iraq and in Ukraine.
This upheaval meant that last year the number of asylum applications increased by thirty percent compared with the previous year – actually reaching the highest level since the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. This pressure is not about to decrease. We cannot magically stabilise conflicts around the world. Italy and Bulgaria feel under pressure today; tomorrow it could be Croatia and Poland. So, our duty it is to ensure that we are as best prepared as possible and that we have decent, humane, high standard asylum systems with which we receive those in real need of our protection.
The laws that form the Common European Asylum System, agreed last year, will lead to fairer, quicker and better quality asylum decisions across the EU. There will be greater protection of unaccompanied minors and victims of torture. Our laws will ensure humane material reception conditions (such as housing) for asylum seekers across the EU, and that fundamental rights are fully respected. We have also considerably reduced the possibility to detain asylum seekers.
But of course, agreeing a law is only half the effort. The real work will begin with the implementation of these new laws in order to create a functioning asylum system across the EU. Our aim is that, once implemented, our laws will lead to similar asylum procedures; similar outcomes; and similar reception conditions for asylum seekers no matter where in the EU an application is made. Asylum processes will be more efficient, with cases considered within six months and not, as has sometimes been the case, six years.
Member States must show responsibility by doing everything that they reasonably can in order to apply the law correctly and to have well-functioning asylum systems. It is easier for Member State “A” to show solidarity when it knows that Member State “B” has taken full responsibility to keep its own house in order, but nevertheless still needs help.
The EU stands ready to help the Member States, when needed. Regarding Italy, it has been the biggest recipient of EU funding on migration issues and more than half a billion euros have been earmarked to assist Italy in the coming years. Following on from the Lampedusa tragedy in October 2013, in which more than 300 migrants lost their lives, the Task Force Mediterranean was set up to identify short term and operational solutions to prevent such tragedies from happening again.
But it is not just the southern Member States that are under pressure. In 2013, Sweden received more than twelve times as many asylum applicants per head of population as Italy. Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan are hosting around three million refugees from Syria – several times more than the number of asylum applicants to the whole of the EU. That’s why we also need to show those countries more solidarity by resettling more people out of refugee camps.
Our asylum picture across the EU is therefore complex. But we now have a framework in place to be able to improve it greatly, even in an era of new and increasing pressure. It is our duty, as Europeans from a continent that once produced many thousands of refugees, to ensure that we are a world leader in international protection and that we can cope admirably with all of these pressures. This also means that we are able to return the people whose asylum applications were rejected. To preserve our asylum policy, we need to be able to deal with irregular migration, including unfounded asylum claims in a serious and efficient manner. […]
Laurent Muschel is the Director for Migration and Asylum, DG Home Affairs, European Commission