New rules laying down common procedures and deadlines for handling asylum applications and basic rights for asylum seekers arriving in the EU were endorsed by Parliament on Wednesday. The Common European Asylum System will also stop transfers of asylum seekers to member states unable to ensure decent living conditions for them.
Common asylum procedures
Current EU law does not impose specific deadlines on member states for deciding on asylum applications. To iron out differences between national asylum procedures, the new rules bring in common deadlines for handling asylum applications (a standard six-month deadline with limited exceptions), stricter rules on training staff dealing with asylum seekers and new provisions for the special needs of unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable persons.
Minimum reception conditions
A shortlist of grounds for detaining asylum seekers, decent detention and living conditions, an early assessment of asylum seekers' medical and psychological needs and swifter access to the labour market (nine months after lodging an asylum application) are among the key improvements to the 2003 reception conditions directive. As a general rule, if asylum seekers are detained, they will have to be placed in specialised detention facilities.
No transfers to countries unable to cope
The Dublin regulation determines which country is responsible for dealing with an asylum request (usually the one through which the asylum seeker first entered the EU). Under the new rules, asylum seekers will not be transferred to EU countries where there is a risk of inhuman or degrading treatment. These rules will also introduce an early-warning mechanism to help tackle problems in national asylum systems before they turn into crises.
Police access to asylum seekers' database
Finally, member states’ police forces and Europol will have access to asylum seekers’ fingerprints in the Eurodac database, to help them fight terrorism and serious crime. At the request of MEPs, stricter data-protection provisions and new safeguards to ensure that data is not used for other purposes, will apply.
The new asylum system updates laws passed about a decade ago. Some 330,000 asylum applicants were registered in EU countries in 2012.
The new asylum rules, which have already been agreed by Parliament and Council representatives and backed by national governments, should enter into force in the second half of 2015.
The Dublin rules on transfers of asylum seekers will take effect six months after their legal entry into force (i.e. at the start of 2014).