Europe & Refugees

Freedom, Security and Justice?



Messages for the Laeken Summit

by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles



The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) is an umbrella organisation for co-operation between European non-governmental organisations concerned with asylum seekers and refugees.  ECRE campaigns on behalf of its pan-European membership for humane and fair asylum policies. In this paper, ECRE has compiled the views of its member agencies with regard to their assessment of progress made in EU asylum and migration policy since the Tampere Summit of  October 1999.


In October 1999, at a special European summit in Tampere, Finland, European leaders spoke proudly of their shared commitment to freedom, based on human rights, democratic institutions and rule of law and underlined their absolute respect of the right to seek asylum. In their Conclusions, they committed themselves to working towards establishing a Common European Asylum System based on the full and inclusive application of the Geneva Convention, thus ensuring that nobody is sent back to persecution.


ECRE believes that in the last two years, there have been some significant areas of progress. The European Commission’s Justice and Home Affairs Directorate has drafted legislation in all the areas identified as the ‘building blocks’ of a European asylum system. In doing so, it is laudable that it consulted with Member States, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and relevant non-governmental organisations. A European Refugee Fund has been established to support States in their efforts to receive asylum seekers, facilitate the integration of refugees and assist with voluntary return. Legislation has also been adopted to establish a system for sharing responsibility for refugee protection in situations of mass influx.


Notwithstanding this progress, there are some significant areas of concern. In ECRE's view, measures taken or currently being considered to combat illegal immigration have failed to provide adequate guarantees and have, conversely, significantly diminished access for refugees. Deterrence rather  than protection seem to remain the key concern of the majority of Member States. In contrast, to public rhetoric, Member States' approach to the legislative process has reflected a lack of political will to agree on common standards and move beyond national practice towards protection-oriented asylum policies. Despite a commitment to address root causes by improving human rights and alleviating poverty in countries of origin, Member States' actions have focused almost exclusively on migration controls rather than on building partnerships with countries of origin.


The Amsterdam Treaty offers EU Member States a golden opportunity to set legislative standards which will not only approximate current diverging national asylum laws and practices but which also reflect existing best practice. It also offers an important opportunity to establish a system of responsibility sharing which will eventually go beyond the present boundaries of the European Union and extend to the candidate countries in Central and Eastern Europe. ECRE appeals to the EU governments to use the Laeken Summit well and commit themselves to:


a)      Agree EU asylum legislation which bridges the gaps between national policies and raises standards so that these are humane and in line with international human rights and refugee law.


b)     recognise the global implications of their actions and ensure that common EU asylum policies serve to strengthen the global refugee protection system and responsibility sharing. Access for refugees to the EU territory is an essential part of this. ECRE therefore calls as a first step for a collective EU commitment to establish and maintain annual resettlement quotas for refugees from other regions into all Member States to assist UNHCR' s resettlement scheme.


c)      to develop comprehensive plans to fight root causes of flight, including the areas of development, human rights and conflict prevention.


                                                                        November 2001