The Malta Independent 2 December 2023, Saturday
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‘Long way to go’ for fair asylum system in EU

Malta Independent Friday, 6 September 2013, 10:12 Last update: about 10 years ago

Complicated procedures to seek humanitarian protection – as well as significant differences between countries – are leading to an unfair treatment of asylum seekers in much of Europe, according to the European Council on Refugees and Exiles.

In a report entitled Not There Yet: An NGO Perspective on Challenges to a Fair and Effective Common European Asylum System, the ECRE observes that there is still a long way to go in the establishment of a fair and efficient common European asylum system, despite the adoption of an “asylum package” last June and over 12 years of harmonising national asylum policies within the EU.

The report highlights huge differences as regards the procedural rules and safeguards for asylum seekers, their access to accommodation and employment, as well as the use of detention.

“How can we expect refugees to be able to explain the reasons which forced them to flee their country and navigate through a complex legal procedure when in some cases they are not assisted by a lawyer and a qualified interpreter, when sometimes they have to sleep rough or in makeshift settlements or when months in overcrowded detention centres have left them psychologically broken,” ECRE secretary general Michael Diedring asked at the launch of the report.

The report covers 14 countries, including Malta, and notes that access to free legal assistance and representation for asylum seekers is being increasingly compromised. Paradoxically, the report finds, effective access to quality legal assistance is least available where it is most needed, such as in accelerated procedures, at the border or in detention.

Asylum seekers’ right to lodge an appeal against a negative decision in some member states was found to be undermined in practice, as lawyers were not being allowed reasonable time to prepare the appeal.

In certain cases, lodging an appeal does not automatically result in the suspension of the removal order as suspensive effect must be asked for separately. Such systems not only add to the workload of already overburdened courts, it also increases the risk that asylum seekers are sent back to their country of origin and subjected to serious human rights violations, in particular when there are obstacles to access free legal assistance.

The varying practices with regard to detention are also outlined, with the ECRE pointing out how Malta continues to detain the vast majority of asylum seekers arriving in the island for months on end in overcrowded military barracks, and how Greece systematically detains even unaccompanied children apprehended crossing the border irregularly. In contrast, Germany and Italy rarely detain asylum seekers.

The ECRE does note that the transposition into national law of the new asylum package will provide an opportunity for governments to address these deficiencies and introduce high standards of protection.

“States now have to do the right thing and give asylum seekers a fair chance to have their claim properly examined, put an end to the detention of those fleeing persecution, and allow refugees to rebuild their lives and contribute to society,” Mr Diedring insisted.

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