Wrong counts and closing doors
The reception of refugees and asylum seekers in Europe
Europe’s ongoing failure to find humane responses to the plight of refugees has led to severe difficulties in ensuring reception for those seeking asylum, according to the latest report of the Asylum Information Database (AIDA). The report documents the situation in 20 European countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany, Spain, France, Greece, Croatia, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Serbia and Turkey.
The report demonstrates that the inability of reception systems to adapt to higher numbers of asylum seekers is a structural challenge throughout Europe. This has been the case in countries receiving the majority of refugees and migrants, but equally in those faced with much smaller increases in the number of arrivals. While some countries have shown great readiness to find accommodation solutions for the newly arrived, other states – often presented as countries of transit – have not enhanced their reception capacity even in the face of political commitments to do so at the Western Balkan Leaders’ Meeting of October 2015. The lack of sufficient accommodation places has driven many persons in need of protection into inadequate living conditions and destitution.
A central challenge to the operation of reception systems has been the obligation of states to identify vulnerabilities and provide appropriate reception to persons with special needs. Vulnerable persons such as unaccompanied children have been unduly subjected to detention due to the unavailability of appropriate reception places, not least in countries of first arrival. The implementation of the “hotspot” approach in Italy and Greece has reinforced the risk of detention of asylum seekers and migrants, contrary to states’ obligations.
“The controversial EU-Turkey deal has come as another severe blow to states’ obligations to provide dignified living conditions to those seeking asylum in Europe”, says Minos Mouzourakis, AIDA Coordinator. “The deal’s detrimental effect is twofold: on one hand, the plan for collective returns of asylum seekers to a country where their fundamental rights and access to protection are not guaranteed is incompatible with refugee law. On the other hand, as a firm refusal to create more capacity to host refugees in Europe, the deal signals that little has been learnt by European countries following the so-called refugee crisis. Asylum seekers still risk facing unprepared reception systems and being deprived of their fundamental rights and entitlements in the future.”
The report also documents discrimination faced by asylum seekers of certain nationalities in the reception context. As many as eight European countries have resorted to some form of discrimination by privileging some nationalities over others when providing accommodation. In some countries, certain asylum seekers have found themselves arbitrarily detained on the basis of their nationality.
ECRE calls on states to:
- Adapt to higher reception demand and prevent substandard living conditions and destitution from becoming an integral part of seeking asylum in Europe;
- Refrain from the systematic use of emergency facilities as accommodation sites for people undergoing an asylum procedure, as conditions do not allow asylum seekers to have a dignified standard of living in line with their fundamental rights;
- Respect the rights of vulnerable persons throughout the asylum procedure. Identification of vulnerability must be conducted at an early stage, while special reception needs for vulnerable persons as well as the best interests of the child should be a primary consideration for European countries. States need to provide tailored facilities, material resources and necessary treatment and care for both physical and mental illnesses;
- Avoid resort to detention as a strategy of initial accommodation of refugees and migrants. As explained in the report, detention is embedded in several countries’ reception systems;
- Refrain from discriminating against asylum seekers on nationality grounds. States need to accommodate all entrants and not summarily deny or delay entry to those not deemed manifestly in need of international protection. States cannot automatically resort to detention of specific nationalities on similar grounds.
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