Safe Haven not Fortress
A Migration and Asylum policy for Europe
Our organisations represent Christian Churches throughout Europe and church agencies particularly concerned with migrants and refugees. It is part of our Christian faith and tradition to care for the oppressed and to promote the dignity of human beings.
We take the opportunity of the upcoming Laeken summit to express our appreciation to the EU Institutions, especially the Commission and the Parliament for the work carried out to date, and urge continuation of the harmonisation process. The European Council of Tampere in October 1999 expressed a strong commitment of the European Union to establish a fair common European asylum system and a comprehensive immigration policy.
While acknowledging that progress has been made, several shortcomings are still evident in both areas. People in need of international protection are forced onto the irregular track by the exclusionary policies maintained by the European Union Member States, like restrictive visa policy, carriers’ liability, etc. The asylum procedures remain flawed and public opinion towards asylum seekers continues to be negative. Combating illegal immigration overshadows the discussions about not only the protection of refugees but also about legal channels of immigration and establishing a welcoming society. In particular, we call for:
· Genuine harmonisation based on best practice: Harmonisation should neither lower standards of protection nor be undermined by allowing common policies to be applicable by Member States on too much a discretionary basis;
· An asylum system that is based on the full and inclusive application of the 1951 Refugee Convention, that ensures that those in need of protection in fact have access to the territory, and once on the territory, that they are received in dignified conditions, and have their asylum claims examined fairly, efficiently and substantially;
· A migration policy that balances Europe’s need for labour with fairness to migrants and increased commitment to cooperate with countries of origin with due consideration of their interests.
Any harmonisation will need to overcome the major obstacle of Member States reneging their political commitment to establishing an area of freedom, security and justice. We are increasingly concerned by the fact that some Member States seem unwilling to compromise beyond their sole national interests. The Council negotiations on the Family reunification Directive are a worrisome case in point.
We believe a reasonable way out of the current dilemma in decision-making is the abolition of the unanimity principle on asylum and immigration policy.
Evaluation of work to date
We recognize progress made by the European Institutions (Commission, Parliament and Council) in reaching agreement on the Directive establishing the European Refugee Fund; the Directive on temporary protection in the situation of mass influx; the anti-discrimination legislation and the Regulation on Eurodac. However, we are concerned by the lack of an adequate humanitarian provision in the Council Decisions on unauthorized entry and residence, carrier sanctions and combating trafficking in human beings. We agree with UNHCR that protection needs are not sufficiently reflected in these decisions.
On issues pending we wish to commend the European Commission for the draft legislation it has proposed to date. We have already commented in detail on a number of these proposed measures like on minimum standards on asylum procedures; minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers; the revision of the Dublin Convention determining the Member State responsible for examining an asylum application; family reunification of third-country nationals and the status of long term resident third country nationals. In particular we appreciate the Commission’s long-term considerations as put forward in its Communications on a future common asylum and immigration policy on which we have provided detailed comments.
We would like the Council to consider major concerns regarding some Commission proposals, such as safeguarding asylum seekers’ legal protection in asylum procedures, fair and non-punitive reception conditions, and an efficient and workable system of determining the Member State responsible for examining an asylum claim. We re-emphasize the need to involve all relevant policy areas in developing the comprehensive European immigration policy, e.g. social cohesion, development concerns of third countries, international relations. Full integration can only be achieved in the context of a welcoming society. This reflects our understanding of integration as a two-way process requiring programmes also directed at the local population. Furthermore, we feel that intercultural communication and human rights education must be enhanced in training programmes for administrative staff.
In the current context of the EU’s fight against terrorism, we share UNHCR’s and other human rights organisations’ concerns about the definition of terrorism and about Member States questioning their human rights obligations deriving from the European Convention on Human Rights. We see no need to adapt asylum legislation as the 1951 Convention ensures that those found guilty of a crime against humanity do not receive refugee protection (Art. 1 F of the Convention).
Emphasising that migration is a reality of human existence, we finally recall that problems related to global migration are symptoms of worldwide social, economic and political disparities, which ought to be addressed by sincere efforts to establish just relationships. When evaluating the progress made in the field of Immigration and Asylum since Tampere, the Heads of State and Government are called upon to assume responsibility beyond National and European interests in establishing fair responsibility sharing and equal opportunities on a global level.
Brussels, 10 December 2001