Migration politics

EU Asylum Policy: Is An End to the Asylum Lottery in Sight?

© kebox – Fotolia.com© kebox – Fotolia.comA refugee from Iraq is granted asylum in Sweden without any problems, while in Greece he hasn’t a chance. A Chechen is well advised to apply for asylum in Austria, but to avoid Germany or Slovakia. The EU is struggling to unify the diverse asylum policies of its member states.

Since an asylum seeker’s chances of success depend heavily upon which country he hails from and in which EU country he applies for asylum, critics of this system speak of a downright “asylum lottery”. During the Swedish council presidency, the Stockholm Programme will aim at bringing European asylum policy into harmony. The idea is not new. In 1999 at the EU summit in Tampere, heads of government called for a common European asylum policy. In 2004 the Haag Programme established several guidelines for asylum policy. Now the Stockholm Programme is intended to create a binding European asylum and refugee system by 2015.

Yet resistance against this is considerable. Precisely in the area of asylum and emigration policy, many EU states are disinclined to relinquish further authority to Brussels. Here the jealously guarded access to national labour markets plays a role. Moreover, governments have an eye on voters in their own countries to whom multi-culturalism and immigration are suspect. The increasing economic insecurity in Europe is also not conducive to gaining support for the cause of guaranteeing the rights of refugees.

Deportations within the EU and to safe third countries

Boat of refugees; © Mischa Krumm – Fotolia.comSince the Dublin II Regulation in 2003, refugees are as a rule allowed to apply for asylum only in the EU country in which they first arrived. In Germany, this controversial regulation has resulted in many asylum applications being swiftly disposed of. A glance at the immigration database Eurodac suffices: if the refugee in question is already registered in another EU state, he is sent back there.

The German Federal Constitutional Court is now reviewing this practice. The occasion was the lawsuit of an Iraqi asylum applicant. He had already applied for asylum in Greece and was marked to be deported there. In view of the shocking conditions prevalent in Greek refugee camps, the Karlsruhe judges stopped the deportation.

Also controversial is deportation to so-called “safe third countries”. A third country is regarded as safe when it satisfies certain formal criteria – for example, having ratified the Geneva Conventions. Each EU country decides for itself which third states may be looked upon as safe. If a refugee entered the EU via one of these safe third countries, he can be deported there. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees rejects such lists of safe third countries because every case needs to be examined individually and because such practices threaten refugees with one deportation after another until they land in an unsafe state or even in their homeland.

Problem region: southern Europe

Lottery; © Michael Flippo – Fotolia.com“Germany Helps Shut Europe Off” was the recent headline of the leftist newspaper taz. The background to this was the German Federal Police’s indirect assistance to the Italian Coast Guard in tracking down a boat of refugees who were later turned over to a Libyan patrol boat. The fate of the refugees is unknown.

Southern European countries such as Italy, Malta, Cyprus and Greece feel themselves increasingly overwhelmed by the immigration of thousands of boat people from North Africa or Turkey, and left in the lurch by other EU states. The Home Secretaries of the other member states were unable to offer them more than voluntary support. In Great Britain, Austria and Germany a binding system of burden sharing has met with resistance. Germany points to the influx of several hundred thousand refugees that it had to cope with single-handedly during the Yugoslavian wars of the 1990s.

The consequence of this standstill is that the states concerned have to carry on asylum policy on their own initiative. Thus in May 2009 Italy concluded a “Friendship Treaty” with Libya. Libyan head of state Muammar al-Gaddafi, previously known as a desert dictator, was now lauded by Prime Minister Berlusconi as a “leader of great wisdom”. Libya received three million euros as reparations for wrongs suffered during the colonial period. As quid pro quo, Libya agreed to assist Italy in its fight against illegal immigrants. Such going-it-alone damages the credibility of EU human rights policy as a whole.

Fight against illegal immigration or for human rights?

Europe will have to decide: Does it want to toe a hard line and militarise EU external borders and criminalize refugees through restrictive entry regulations (in Italy, for instance, illegal entry or transit is now a crime) – that is, practice a policy of deterrence and sealing-off? Do we really think that illegal immigration and human trafficking organised by refugee smuggling rings can be effectively combated in this way?

The EU Commissioner in charge of immigration, Jacques Barrot, has proposed an alternative strategy: the EU should accept more refugees from crisis and war zones. The idea is based on the hope that more legal immigration will decrease illegal immigration.

Holger Moos
The author is a Germanist and economic and social historian.

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
October 2009

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