The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020 but remained subject to the Dublin Regulation during the Transition Period (TP). The UK issued guidance explaining how to process cases where a Dublin Regulation responsibility request was made by a Dublin State to the UK prior to the end of the TP at 23h 00 on 31 December 2020 but either no decision had been made in relation to that request or a decision had been made but the transfer had not taken place before the end of the TP.
Cases introduced after the Transition period can be treated under the new inadmissibility rules on safe third countries. “The rules allow an inadmissibility decision to be taken on the basis of a person’s earlier presence in or connection to a safe third country, even if that particular country will not immediately agree to the persons return.” The guidance on inadmissibility of asylum claims explains that: “the safe countries most likely to be identified in asylum claims will be the UK’s near neighbours in the EU. Other EU member states, the wider EEA countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and Switzerland may also be identified, as may country such as the United States of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand” (see further under Admissibility procedure).
In February 2018, the government published up-to-date Dublin statistics for the first time, having previously referred enquirers to Eurostat figures, even as recently as in responses to parliamentary questions in January 2018. These statistics were produced annually until 2021 (relating to transfers in 2020) and it is confirmed there will be no further updates.
As the UK is no longer part of the Dublin Regulation new guidance was issued to inform Home Office staff how to deal with the remaining requests made prior to 31 December 2020.
The majority of requests to third countries were based on Eurodac hits, as these are objective and easy to identify for the authorities. If the applicant wished to be transferred out of the UK, a referral was made to the Third Country Unit (TCU) and the Home Office would not normally object. However, if the applicant wished to have his or her claim substantively considered in the UK, it was the obligation of the applicant or their legal representative to submit documentary evidence such as status papers, passports, asylum interview records etc. of family members, as well as representations explaining why the UK should consider the claim.
The family criteria
During 2020 there were many efforts by campaigners to force the government to negotiate ‘replacements’ for the family unity clauses of Dublin III. The UK government published draft agreements, which were not reciprocated by the EU. The two proposals related to general returns agreement and a specific measure to allow unaccompanied children to unite with family members. The UK indicated it would attempt to negotiate returns agreements with individual EU member states. The revised inadmissibility guidance advises that if a person can be removed to another country, including a Dublin III state, the claim should be refused as inadmissible in the UK.
During the passage of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020, the government agreed to publish the existing routes for family reunification in the UK. This was fulfilled on 31 December with a document outlining existing routes (most not specific to refugee or people seeking asylum). The government also committed to a review of safe and legal routes to the UK; in February 2021 it fulfilled its obligation to update parliament with routes available to reunite families, which was a reiteration of the December 2020 document.
UK legislation provides for different lists of ‘safe third countries’ to which an asylum seeker can be returned without their asylum claim being considered in the UK. They are called ‘third’ countries because they are not the UK and not the country of origin.
The First List is set out in the statute and consists of EU member states (except Croatia), Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. There is no reference to the Dublin III Regulation, but the legislation states that the listed countries are to be treated as places in which a person will not be at risk of persecution contrary to the Refugee Convention, and from which they will not be sent in breach of the Refugee Convention or European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Whether the person can be removed to one of these countries is determined in the first instance by whether they can be shown to have travelled through that country. During 2020 the UK had access to the Eurodac system but from 2021 access has been limited to transfer requests made prior to the beginning of 2021.
Enquiries as to the route of travel are also a routine part of the screening process in all cases. The asylum seeker’s account of their route of travel and other evidence of the person having lived in or travelled through a country will influence whether the application is referred to the Third Country Unit.
On the Second List, see the section on Admissibility Procedure.
Once the EU Member State or Schengen Associated State took or was deemed to take responsibility for examining the asylum application on the basis of the Dublin III Regulation, the claim was refused as inadmissible on third country grounds without its substance being considered in the UK.
Regulations laid in 2017 provided a list of criteria to consider prior to deciding to detain but give wide discretion e.g. whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person is unlikely to return voluntarily to any other participating State determined to be responsible for consideration of their application for international protection under the Dublin III Regulation.
The Home Office was not able to provide figures on the average duration of the Dublin procedure in recent parliamentary questions.. Anecdotal evidence from NGOs and legal reps is that particularly during the period September to November 2021 transfers of people who had arrived in small boats were processed very quickly after arrival, with minimal checks conducted to ascertain whether or not transfer is appropriate.
The situation of Dublin returnees
There are no reported issues regarding the situation of adults returned to the UK under the Dublin regulation. Children reunited with family under Article 8 are not considered to be unaccompanied even if they are not dependants on a family member’s asylum claim. Concerns have been raised about the support they receive and the difficulties arising from them being part of families e.g. many do not qualify for legal aid and are not routinely assisted thought the asylum procedure.
 Requests made to the UK under the Dublin III Regulation prior to the end of the transition period, available at: https://bit.ly/39hMp1S.
 A summary of these proposals and of commitments made to review the routes available to families is provided in the House of Commons library note.
 Schedule 3 Part 2, First List AITOCA.
 UK Legislation, The transfer for determination of an application for international protection (detention) regulations 2017, available at: https://bit.ly/2RG35q2.