Reception conditions

Reception conditions encompass a wide range of measures and provisions offered to asylum seekers during the procedure determining their international protection status, which can include housing, food, clothing, education, employment, health care among others. The recast Reception Conditions Directive (binding on all countries except Ireland, the UK, Switzerland, Serbia and Turkey) sets out applicable standards at European Union level. 

The information in this section is up-to-date as of the end of 2016.

Access to reception conditions

The recast Reception Conditions Directive defines material reception conditions as “the reception conditions that include housing, food and clothing provided in kind, or as financial allowances or in vouchers, or a combination of the three, and a daily expenses allowance”. The general rules and the modalities of material reception conditions are further explained in Articles 17 and 18 of the Directive. Material reception conditions are not always provided in every stage of the procedure. There are considerable differences between countries within the same procedure, but also within a country depending on the type of procedure.

Provision of reception conditions in different procedural stages

  • Regular procedure: Material reception conditions are made available to asylum seekers in the regular procedure in all AIDA countries.

  • Dublin procedure: Besides Serbia and Turkey which do not apply the Dublin procedure, Germany but also France do not offer full material reception conditions during the Dublin procedure. An asylum seeker in France has no access to reception centres for asylum seekers (CADA) during the Dublin procedure and thus enjoys only limited rights to material reception conditions. However, the Court of Justice of the European Union decided in Cimade & GISTI that France nevertheless remains obliged to grant the minimum conditions for reception of asylum seekers. In Bulgaria asylum seekers to whom a Dublin procedure is undertaken cannot enjoy any of the material reception conditions, as the only rights reserved for them are to stay in the territory of the country, to interpretation and to be issued a registration card.

  • Admissibility procedure: Not all countries have an admissibility procedure. From those that do, Belgium only offers limited material reception conditions during this stage of the asylum process.

  • Border procedure: Almost half of the AIDA countries do not have a specific border procedure. Whereas GermanyHungary, the Netherlands and Switzerland offer limited material reception conditions during the border procedure, France and Ireland offer none at all. That leaves only AustriaBelgiumSpain and Greece offering full material reception conditions during the border procedure.

  • Accelerated procedure: Only 11 of the AIDA countries offer full material reception conditions during this type of procedure. Belgium offers only limited reception conditions, whereas Germany hosts asylum seekers in “special reception centres” under its accelerated procedure. Switzerland currently applies a “test phase” accelerated procedure. All material reception conditions are offered during the Swiss test phase procedure.

  • Appeal: During the appeal stage, most countries give full material reception conditions to asylum seekers during the first appeal. Only Germany and Italy are exceptions to this rule and have limited their material reception conditions during the first appeal. As regards onward appeals against a decision rejecting a first appeal, the NetherlandsPoland and Cyprus offer no material reception conditions during this phase. Italy, Belgium and Germany offer only limited reception conditions, whereas the other AIDA countries offer full material conditions during the onward appeal. If no suspensive effect is granted after lodging an appeal, no material reception conditions are granted in Austria in both appeal stages.

  • Subsequent application: Whereas  Bulgaria and the Netherlands offer no material reception conditions during a subsequent application Belgium, GermanyCroatia, France, Italy, the United KingdomSweden and Switzerland offer only limited material reception conditions. The remaining AIDA countries offer full material reception conditions during a subsequent appeal.

The relevance of an applicant’s resources

Article 17(3) recast Reception Conditions Directive

Article 17(3) of the recast Reception Conditions Directive allows countries to make the provision of some or all reception conditions “subject to the condition that applicants do not have sufficient means to have a standard of living adequate for their health and to enable their subsistence.”

Except for Ireland and Poland, all AIDA countries have a requirement in the law that only asylum seekers who lack resources are entitled to material reception conditions. However, practice shows that in Belgium, GermanyCroatiaHungary, Italy and the Netherlands this requirement is not applied in practice. In AustriaCyprus, the United KingdomSwitzerland and Turkey this provision is applied strictly in practice.

Reduction or withdrawal of reception conditions

Article 20 recast Reception Conditions Directive

Article 20 of the recast Reception Conditions Directive offers Member States the possibility to reduce or, in exceptional and duly justified cases, withdraw material reception conditions. The article provides for following reasons for reduction or withdrawal if an applicant:

  • abandons the place of residence determined by the competent authority without informing it or, if requested, without permission;

  • does not comply with reporting duties or with requests to provide information or to appear for personal interviews concerning the asylum procedure during a reasonable period laid down in national law;

  • has lodged a subsequent application as defined in Article 2(q) of the recast Asylum Procedures Directive;

  • for no justifiable reason, has not lodged an application for international protection as soon as reasonably practicable after arrival in that Member State;

  • has concealed financial resources, and has therefore unduly benefited from material reception conditions; or

  • has seriously breached the rules of the accommodation centres as well as shown seriously violent behaviour.

The article furthermore requires decisions to be taken individually, objectively and impartially and reasoned. In any case, access to health care in accordance with Article 19 of the recast Reception Conditions Directive and a dignified standard of living for all applicants has to be ensured by the Member States.

The following grounds have been incorporated in AIDA countries' domestic legislation:


After withdrawal of Basic Care in 
Austria, asylum seekers only have limited access to health care in the sense that they are only entitled to emergency care and essential treatment. The same system is applied in Germany. In the United Kingdom and Bulgaria, no health care is provided after withdrawal of material reception conditions.

Access

Housing

Types of accommodation

Article 18 recast Reception Conditions Directive

Standards on accommodation of asylum seekers are clarified in Article 18 of the recast Reception Conditions Directive, which provides that accommodation centres must guarantee an adequate standard of living. The Directive also offers the possibility of housing asylum seekers in hotels, private houses or other premises. In times of emergency, it also provides Member States with the possibility to derogate from reception standards when "housing capacities normally available are temporarily exhausted", insofar as emergency accommodation covers basic needs of applicants.

Despite these legal provisions, Member States’ interpretations of reception remain highly divergent across Europe. Namely, several countries draw a distinction between first-line for new arrivals and second-line reception as a subsequent step in housing, while such a divide is not pertinent in other countries. In light of this, making a meaningful comparison of the reception capacities is extremely complicated. 

With these notions in mind, the following comparison aims to provide a basic overview of the wide array of reception facilities used in the 20 AIDA countries:

  • Regional differences: This table shows that not only do countries apply different reception standards, but also within countries there are differences in reception agreements. A clear example of this is Germany, where the framework and capacity of reception facilities can vary from one Land to another, due to the federal structure of the country. A similar situation can be observed in Switzerland where the reception centres at cantonal level includes several types of housing, such as collective centres, family apartments and home for unaccompanied children.

  • Emergency accommodation: Due to the increase in arrivals in 2015, several countries set up emergency accommodation. In most of these countries, these emergency reception facilities are abolished now, or at least decreased significantly in capacity. Cyprus, Germany, France, Greece, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Serbia still have emergency accommodation in one way or another. France has both emergency centres (HUDA, AT-SA) and Reception and Orientation Centres (CAO). Greece has temporary accommodation facilities and a UNHCR accommodation scheme. In Ireland the emergency reception accommodations are named Emergency reception and orientation centres (EROC). In the United Kingdom, emergency reception was provided for in hotels, whereas Switzerland used centres in remote locations.

Living conditions

In 2015, the considerable increase in the number of arrivals for the majority of European countries placed reception capacities under strain. A shortage of reception space, coupled with substandard living conditions, underpinned asylum seekers’ treatment in Europe from the very point of arrival. Overcrowding was reported in various AIDA countries but the pressure on the reception system in most AIDA countries has lowered throughout 2016. However, various countries still face difficulties, among which the United Kingdom, GreeceItalySpainCyprus and Hungary

In response to overcrowding, Member States resorted to different types of measures. Most of these measures are now abandoned, such as the use of tents and army barracks in both Austria and SwitzerlandSpain focused on including hotels and hostels and codified this possibility in legislation in September 2015.

  • Makeshift camps: Several other countries failed to react to the increase in arrivals which led to homelessness, destitution and makeshift solutions. The most notorious makeshift camp is evidently the camp in Calais, which saw as many as 6.000 people waiting to cross the Channel tunnel to the United Kingdom. The camp, more commonly known as the Jungle, has been dismantled in October 2016 and most asylum seekers have been relocated to other regions in France in different types of accommodation. Close to Calais, in Grande-Synthe, another makeshift camp arose in 2016 and was populated by over 3.000 people. During the last quarter of 2016, smaller informal camps arose in Paris, which are now populated by 3,000 asylum seekers. Several reports at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 have denounced the dire and inhuman conditions in Serbia faced by persons living in makeshift camps in Belgrade mostly populated by mostly asylum seekers reluctant to go to the reception centre in Preševo for fear of deprivation of liberty and deportation. An estimated 1,500 asylum seekers reside in the makeshift camps.

  • Substandard conditions: In Cyprus the reception conditions, both in the Kofinou reception centre and private accommodation, are often inadequate. The overcrowding in Greece mainly relates to reception in the hotspots on the Aegean Islands. However, destitution is also widespread on the Greek mainland given the temporary accommodation scheme’s short-term nature. In reception facility in Körmend in Hungary, which consists of tents, nearly all accommodated asylum seekers complained about extremely low temperatures in the tents. In Italy the governmental first reception centres are generally overcrowded and conditions are considered worse than those in SPRAR. Similarly, the CAS centres, who are no longer considered purely emergency capacity but have now been included in the normal reception procedure have experienced problems in 2016 such as unsuitable structures reception; lack of hygiene and lack of safety conditions minimally adequate for both guests and workers and lack of preparation of the staff and staff shortages. The remote location of some accommodation centres in Poland is flagged as a problem there. A recent report in the United Kingdom concluded that current compliance regime is not fit for purpose due to the poor condition of a significant minority of properties.

In Bulgaria, at the end of August 2016, following a mass fight between Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers in Harmanli led to the opening of the first national closed reception facility, while another one was opened after a riot in the same centre in November 2016. These are officially described as “closed reception facilities”, since asylum seekers residing there are not free to exit the premises.

 

Special reception needs of vulnerable asylum seekers

Article 22 recast Reception Conditions Directive

Article 22 of the recast Reception Conditions Directive requires Member States to assess whether an applicant has special reception needs on account of his or her vulnerability. In such a case, special reception needs must be taken into account in the provision of reception conditions, in particular accommodation. Several issues arise in practice, however:

  • Identification: Several countries have experienced difficulties due to the increase in arrivals, which in 2015 led to problems with identifying vulnerable asylum seekers in BelgiumGermanyGreece and Croatia. Especially in Greece, these problems have persisted due to the long-lasting pressure on the reception system. Even though there is no mechanism laid down in law in the United Kingdom, there is policy that instructs caseworkers to assess whether the asylum seekers have any special medical needs that will affect dispersal. A 2017 report in Belgium highlighted several barriers to identification of vulnerable persons with specific reception needs. These include a lack of time, language and communication barriers, a lack of information handover and a lack of training and experience related to vulnerable persons. The report also found that the identification tools are not applied in a coordinated manner and strongly influenced by the reception context. Cyprus introduced an identification mechanism in its legislation in October 2016, however in practice there is still no standardised assessment of vulnerabilities. Even though provided for in law, in practice there is no formal mechanism for vulnerability assessment in CroatiaAustria, Bulgaria, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland and Serbia do not have a systemic identification of vulnerable asylum seekers.

  • Unaccompanied children: Singling out unaccompanied asylum seeking children as a category of vulnerable persons shows that the Calais Jungle in France was hosting over 400 unaccompanied children before the demolition started in March 2016. In Cyprus the absence of basic sanitary products and health care was reported in the state-run centre due to overcrowding.  A 2016 report from the Ombudsman in Austria recommended smaller reception facilities for unaccompanied minors, since the current accommodation housed a large number of housed male unaccompanied children of different ethnicity, which lead to regular conflicts. In Belgium, Fedasil issued an instruction in November 2016 that provides for the possibility of accommodating minors who are older than 17 years old, and minors about who there is a test pending to clarify their age, in general collective centres for adults.

  • Unaccompanied children: A report in Germany has flagged several problems in relation to the reception of unaccompanied children such as inadequate reception facilities, insufficient medical care and long duration of procedures to clarify guardianship. A large amount of unaccompanied children in Greece are on a waiting list and thus deprived of reception conditions. Part of them were detained in either closed reception facilities or by the police. Even though as a rule Ireland does not have specific identification procedures for vulnerabilities, unaccompanied children are an exception to this rule. As the United Kingdom witnessed a rise in arrivals of unaccompanied minors, this resulted in a saturation of the local authorities network. The Immigration Act 2016 included provision for the legal transfer of responsibility from the initial local authority to a second local authority which has volunteered to take over the care. Even though reception conditions for unaccompanied minors are generally better than the general reception system in Serbia, asylum-seeking children are placed in placed in institutions which accommodate nationals of Serbia – primarily underage offenders, and are therefore neither specifically-tailored to the needs of migrants, nor particularly suitable for their housing.

Housing

Employment

Article 15 of the recast Reception Conditions Directive lays down the obligations for Member States concerning access to employment for asylum seekers, and provides that access to the labour market should be granted no later than 9 months after the application for international protection was lodged.

Member States are allowed to impose conditions for granting access to the labour market and may prioritise Union citizens and nationals of States parties to the Agreement on the European Economic Area, and legally resident third-country nationals. They are required, however, to ensure that access to employment remains effective.

In Germany asylum seekers are allowed to access the labour market after 3 months. However, as long as asylum seekers are obliged to stay in an initial reception centre, they are not allowed to work. The maximum period for stay in an initial reception centre is 6 months, but asylum seekers from safe countries of origin are obliged to stay in “special reception centres” for the entire duration of their asylum procedure and are therefore excluded from access to employment. 

Obstacles

Several obstacles to enjoying the right to employment are reported in the 20 AIDA countries:

  • Language barrier: Often access to employment proves difficult for asylum seekers due to various obstacles preventing them from receiving job offers. The lack of knowledge of the official language(s) is highlighted as a serious obstacle in BelgiumBulgariaCyprusSpainCroatiaHungaryItalyMaltaPolandSwitzerland and Serbia.

  • Administrative formalities: Administrative barriers are often a source of frustration on both the employer and the asylum seekers’ side. Various administrative burdens are flagged as obstacles in FranceGreece, Malta and the Netherlands. The fact that the listed shortage occupations in the United Kingdom are defined so narrowly is seen as a substantial barrier.

  • Recognition of qualifications/degrees: In many countries, such as BelgiumSpainHungary and Switzerland, recognition of qualifications and diplomas are an obstacle preventing access to the labour market for asylum seekers.

  • Working time restrictions: Moreover, in the Netherlands, asylum seekers are only allowed to work for 168 days per year, whereas in the other AIDA countries there are no working time restrictions.

Employment

Education

Article 14 of the recast Reception Conditions Directive deals with schooling and education of minors. The article obliges Member States to offer education to minors under similar conditions as offered to nationals for so long as an expulsion measure against them or their parents is not actually enforced. Access to education has to be offered no later than 3 months after the lodging of the application for asylum by or on behalf of the minor.

Time limits

All 20 AIDA countries provide for the education asylum seeking minors in their national laws and apply this in practice. Several countries have laid down specific time limits for access to education. For instance in GreeceCyprus and Malta, children have to be enrolled in school no later than 3 months after submitting their application for international protection. In Greece and Malta, this can be extended to 1 year where language training or other education facilitating classes are required. In Austria, access to education is guaranteed after being admitted to the regular procedure, which should take at most 20 days, whereas in Croatia there is a maximum limit of 30 days after lodging an application. Due to the federal state system in Switzerland, children usually have to wait upon their transfer to a canton to enter the education system, except for those in the test phase procedure. As a result of the high influx in Sweden there is currently a waiting time of several months to access the Swedish education system.

Preparatory classes

Countries such as BelgiumCyprusCroatiaHungaryIreland, the NetherlandsPolandSwedenSwitzerland and Serbia all provide preparatory classes or language training, either included in or outside of the normal curriculum. In GermanySpain and Italy, the provision of this kind of educational support depends on the region. In Austria preparatory classes usually are set up where many children without knowledge of the German language attend class, otherwise they are assisted by a second teacher. A Greek Ministerial Decision issued in August 2016 provided the establishment of preparatory classes (Τάξη Υποδοχής) for all school-age children aged 4 to 15, which is now being implemented in either public schools, neighbouring camps or places of residence.

Obstacles

Several obstacles to access to education are reported in the AIDA countries:

  • Language barrier: With or without language classes, the lack of knowledge of the local language remains one of the main obstacles for effective access to quality education in many countries.

  • Costs: In CyprusMalta and the United Kingdom  are the additional costs that come with studying, such as transportation costs, books and lunch money.

  • Saturation: Problems with the absorption of asylum seeking children have been reported in BelgiumItalySwedenPoland (kindergarten) and the United Kingdom (language classes in England).

  • Remote location: The often long travel between the distant locations of the centres often proves to be an obstacle as well in MaltaBulgaria and Italy.

  • Bureaucracy: Problems with administration and documentation have been reported in Greece and France.

  • Racism: Tension provoked by far-right groups in Greece and security issues for children accessing schools are reported in some areas such as Schisto and Oreokastro.

Education

Health care

Article 17 of the recast Reception Conditions Directive contains some general provisions on both material reception conditions and health care. The article states that Member States may make the provision of health care subject to the condition that applicants do not have sufficient means to have a standard of living adequate for their health. Article 19 specifies that Member States have to ensure the necessary health care, which includes at least emergency care and essential treatment of illnesses and of serious mental disorders. The article also requires Member States to provide necessary medical or other assistance to applicants who have special reception needs, including appropriate mental health care where needed.

Access to health care

Article 19 recast Reception Conditions Directive

Access to health care is guaranteed in law in all AIDA countries. In practice there is only full access to health care in BelgiumSpainGreeceIrelandItaly and Serbia. The remaining countries have only limited access.

In practice, several obstacles to effective access to healthcare have been reported in most Member States:

  • The most frequently encountered problem is the language barrier. This has been highlighted in CyprusFranceCroatiaHungaryItalyMalta and Poland.

  • Often a national problem spills over to health care offered to asylum seekers. In Greece and Cyprus the financial crisis has resulted in cuts which have led to a deterioration of health care quality.

  • Austria experienced difficulties in providing timely health care due to the delays in registration as a result of the high influx of asylum seekers. The same goes for Italy where the right to medical assistance is acquired at the moment of the registration of the asylum request, where very often access is hindered and severely delayed, depending upon the attribution of the tax code, assigned by Questure when formalising the asylum application. In Greece, difficulties in the issuance of social security numbers (AMKA) have also created barriers to access to health care.

  • In GermanyFranceIreland and Poland the remote location of some reception centres has caused problems and impeded access to health care.

  • Administrative difficulties have been known to be barriers to effective access in France and Austria. However, effective access to healthcare in France has improved substantially over the course of 2016.

Specialised treatment for victims of torture

Article 25 recast Reception Conditions Directive

Specialised treatment for victims of torture is required by Article 25 of the recast Reception Conditions Directive but not provided in BulgariaCroatiaMalta and SerbiaGermany and Ireland provide specialised treatment whereas the other AIDA countries only provide limited specialised treatment for victims of torture. Spain legally foresees this, but in practice there is no specialised medical centre for treatment of victims of torture. The specialised treatment for victims of torture is usually provided by NGOs or independent charities and usually lacks the required capacity. This was reported in AustriaCyprusGermanyFranceGreeceIrelandItaly and the United Kingdom.

Health care

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti