Europe’s Asylum Policies Should Aim at Saving Lives

Geneva, 28 June 2018 - Major obstacles prevent people on the move from accessing protection in the European Union, a new report by Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) Europe finds. The organization calls for a fundamental policy shift: EU asylum policies should aim at saving lives, not at preventing people from arriving in Europe.

Three years after the adoption of the European Agenda on Migration, the reality on the ground for refugees and migrants is far from being satisfactory. The report “Forgotten at the gates of Europe” provides insights into the experiences of refugees and migrants at the borders of the European Union (EU). It was published by JRS Europe on 19 June, one day ahead of World Refugee Day.

One of the report’s findings is that in the near absence of safe and legal access to Europe, people are taking increasingly dangerous routes, in some cases do not have access to proper asylum procedures and in many cases face undignified reception conditions upon arrival.

In 2015, confronted with a considerable increase in the numbers of asylum-seekers arriving in Europe, the EU adopted the so-called European Agenda on Migration. This policy includes short-, medium- and long-term solutions to address the challenges of increased migration to Europe.

In 2018, arrival numbers are substantially lower than three years ago, prompting policy-makers to compliment themselves on the work done. However, the report highlights a reality on the ground that is far from deserving congratulations.

The JRS team interviewed migrants and asylum-seekers at the borders of Croatia, Greece, Italy, Malta, Romania and the Spanish enclave of Melilla – the entry points into the EU for many.

They found that there are still major challenges in accessing the EU to claim asylum. For instance, push-backs – the illegal practice of denying access at a border and obliging people to go back, in contravention of the principle of non-refoulement – still happen at the Croatian border with Serbia and at Melilla’s with Morocco.

Even people who do manage to enter the EU experience many difficulties to access asylum procedures. These include lack of information in a language they understand or purposeful misdirection by the country’s authorities.

Another finding is that the Dublin Regulation constitutes a major obstacle in accessing protection. According to the Regulation, asylum-seekers need to apply for asylum in the first country of entry into the EU. Due to overcrowded reception conditions, inaccessible asylum procedures or because they have family elsewhere, many opt for remaining undetected until they can reach another EU country. Which puts them in a situation of vulnerability.

The report includes a series of recommendations for EU governments relating to three major requests:
• opening and/or increasing safe and legal channels to access protection in the EU;
• ending the practice of push-backs and other violent behavior at borders;
• overhauling the current Common European Asylum System to ensure dignified reception conditions in all countries, as well as reforming the Dublin Regulation so as to take into account the preferences of the asylum-seekers.