Summary of ECRE’s position on rights to social assistance for asylum seekers, with reference to the Proposal for a Council Directive laying down minimum standards on the reception of applicants for asylum in Member States[1]



February 2002



ECRE’s Position



ECRE urges member states to agree to the granting of material reception conditions to applicants of asylum during all forms of procedures, including social assistance in the form of allowances. We fully endorse the arguments for a rights-based approach as put forward by the Commission [2]. Denial of necessary social assistance to asylum seekers amounts to forcing the individual into destitution and thus threatens his/her basic human rights[3].


We remind Member States of the objective of the Directive, which, according to paragraphs 4, 6, 8 of the draft Preamble, is to provide dignified living conditions for all applicants. To achieve this aim, and in order to avoid discrimination, ECRE urges governments to grant asylum applicants rights to minimum welfare assistance in parity with nationals.


The level of support for asylum applicants should be seen in the context of the fact that asylum seekers usually do not have extended family networks to support them and it may be very difficult for them to secure employment even where granted the right to work.


Social assistance should be received as money sufficient to cover basic needs, equivalent to nationals and within a reasonable time. The provision of social assistance in kind or food is only appropriate in emergency situations of mass influx or at the first, temporary point of reception. ECRE is opposed to any non-cash system. Experience suggests that it is more appropriate to give asylum seekers control over their living expenses. We are specifically opposed to the use of vouchers as a means of providing assistance, because they are stigmatizing and because of the many practical difficulties which arise in exchanging vouchers for basic items. [4]


ECRE welcomes the commitment that the total amount of support should be sufficient to "avoid applicants and their accompanying family members falling into poverty"[5]. ECRE regrets, however, that it has not been possible to identify an objective parameter to indicate the minimum value of support for asylum seekers. The formula found, according to which the amount of support is supposed to be "outlined by each Member State in relation to its welfare system and the living costs on its national territory", in our view leaves too much discretion to Member States. ECRE believes that Member States should define poverty in clear and measurable terms.


ECRE supports allowing asylum seekers the option of being accommodated by family and friends and believes this is advantageous for the state, the individual and for refugee communities. Any significant reduction of reception conditions for applicants who have the possibility to be accommodated with family or friends would effectively constitute a penalisation for both the asylum seeker and host family members or friends.[6]


The withdrawal or reduction of what are already minimum reception conditions is not consistent with the requirements of human rights law. Sanctions should not be imposed which mean that the rights of applicants and their family members to a basic standard of health care, accommodation, food and social assistance are withdrawn under any circumstances and the best interests of the child are paramount.[7]


Article 17(2) grants Member States the discretion not to pay daily expenses to persons who are detained.  ECRE reminds Member States that asylum seekers are not criminals and should never be treated like them and that they may require daily expenses for, for example, phone calls, products of personal care, etc.


ECRE welcomes the obligatory establishment of independent offices to hear complaints and resolve disputes concerning material reception conditions. We would like to emphasise that "the existence of the office does not exclude the possibility (...) for applicants and accompanying family members to take proceedings before a court, at least when their fundamental rights might have been infringed".[8]


ECRE agrees with the provision that Member States may require applicants who are in the position to do so to contribute to the cost of their material reception conditions or to cover it.[9]

In our view, asylum seekers should not be treated differently from nationals in a similar situation who receive State social assistance. This can be guaranteed by the clarification to Article 17(1) as proposed by ECRE below.



Proposed amendments


ECRE urges Member States to consider the following amendments:


●Article 15(3):


"Material reception conditions should be provided in the form of financial allowances. They may be provided in kind only if necessary at the first, temporary point of reception."


●Article 17(1):


"Member States shall ensure that the total amount of social assistance in relation to material reception conditions is in parity with the minimum welfare assistance granted to nationals."


● Article 17 (1):


We recommend Member States to delete the second sentence of Article 17(1) relating to payments to those residing with family or friends.


●Article 17(2):


 We recommend Member States to delete this Article relating to non payments to those in detention for the reasons outlined above.



●Article 18:


ECRE recommends that Article 18 relating to complaints and disputes should include:


"the existence of the office does not exclude the possibility (...) for applicants and accompanying family members to take proceedings before a court, at least when their fundamental rights might have been infringed".


●Article 22:


Article 22 relating to sanctions should be revised – see ECRE Briefing on Sanctions for our views. END

[1] Brussels 3.4.2001, COM (2001) 181 final 2001/0091 (CNS)

[2] in its explanatory memorandum and in paragraph 2 of Article 15

[3] Article 25 of the Universal Declaration; Article 11 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

[4] Article 15(3)

[5] as explained in the Commission's explanatory memorandum, Article 17(1)

[6] art 17 – 1?

[7] Ch 5

[8] , the statement made in the explanatory memorandum re Article 18 – Complaints and disputes concerning the material reception condition

[9] Article 19 – Financial contribution