Right to Asylum Must Be Protected in EU, Says Human Rights Coalition

The Doctors Without Borders vessel Geo Barents intercepted two small boats full of migrants navigating toward Europe

in the Central Mediterranean on March 16, 2024.

(Photo by Simone Boccaccio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Right to Asylum Must Be Protected in EU, Says Human Rights Coalition

"As this legislative cycle starts, the E.U. can and must do better than abandon its commitment to the global refugee protection regime," said an Amnesty campaigner.

Nearly 100 human rights organizations came together Tuesday to emphasize that members of the European Union "must guarantee the right to seek and enjoy asylum and uphold their commitments to the international refugee protection system."

The joint statement from groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Oxfam came as members of the European Parliament prepare for the July 16 plenary sitting, the first meeting scheduled since the bloc's June elections, which resulted in the far-right "Patriots for Europe" becoming the third-largest alliance in the legislative body.

The human rights coalition underscored obligations under Article 18 of the E.U. Charter of Fundamental Rights and expressed concern about "the recent and increasing attempts by the E.U. and its member states to evade their asylum responsibilities by outsourcing asylum processing and refugee protection risk undermining the international protection system."

As the groups detailed:

Italy, for instance, is currently seeking to process asylum applications of certain groups of asylum-seekers outside of its territory, from detention in Albania—which risks leading to prolonged, automatic detention, a denial of access to fair asylum procedures with necessary procedural guarantees, and delayed disembarkation for people rescued or intercepted at sea. Others, such as Denmark and Germany, are assessing the feasibility of this type of arrangement. Fifteen E.U. member states and some political groups have endorsed similar shortsighted measures to shift asylum processing outside E.U. territory and encouraged the European Commission to explore ways to facilitate this through further legislative reform, including through a watered-down 'safe third country' concept.

These attempts must be seen in the context of parallel containment efforts that seek to stem departures and prevent the arrival of asylum-seekers to E.U. territory through partnership agreements with third countries, with little to no attention to the human rights records of those authorities.

The coalition stressed that "as the extensive track record of human rights violations in partner countries such as Libya demonstrates, the E.U. and Member States have no adequate tools and competencies to effectively monitor or enforce human rights standards outside of E.U. territory."

A report published in November by Doctors Without Borders features stories of violence that migrants endured in nations including Libya and Tunisia while trying to get to the E.U. That publication also points out that 2023 was the deadliest year for migration in the Central Mediterranean since 2017, due in part to E.U. countries failing to assist those at risk of drowning.

In addition to sounding the alarm about current E.U. policies and practices, the coalition on Tuesday cited examples including Australia's offshore detention scheme, which "demonstrates how these models have created prolonged confinement and restricted freedom of movement, deeply harming both the mental and physical health of people seeking protection."

The organizations also pointed to an asylum scheme attempted by the United Kingdom—which left the E.U. in 2020 following the 2016 Brexit vote—and Rwanda, which the statement notes "is not yet in effect following the U.K. Supreme Court declaring it unlawful and in any event is unlikely to be operationalized at any significant scale."

The U.K.'s failed attempt to forcibly remove people to the African country was "projected to cost a staggering £1.8 million per asylum-seeker returned," which is equal to €2.13 million or $2.3 million. The coalition called such schemes "not only an unjustifiable waste of public money, but also a lost opportunity to spend it in ways that would truly aid people seeking asylum by investing in fair and humane asylum systems and the communities that welcome them."

Olivia Sundberg Diez, Amnesty's E.U. advocate on migration and asylum, said in a statement Tuesday that "attempts by states to outsource their asylum responsibilities to other countries are not new—but have long been criticized, condemned, and rejected for good reason."

"Just as the U.K.-Rwanda scheme is, rightly, collapsing, the E.U. and its member states should pay attention, stop making false promises, and wasting time and money on expensive, inhumane, and unworkable proposals," she continued. "As this legislative cycle starts, the E.U. can and must do better than abandon its commitment to the global refugee protection regime."

The meeting scheduled for next week will follow the Pact on Migration and Asylum that the European Parliament passed in April and the Council of the E.U. adopted in May. The coalition highlighted that "civil society organizations have been clear about their serious concerns" regarding the reforms while also explaining that "the transfer of asylum-seekers outside of E.U. territory for asylum processing and refugee protection is not provided for in the pact, nor within current E.U. law."

"After the E.U. and member states have spent close to a decade attempting to reform the E.U.'s asylum system, they should now focus on implementing it with a human rights-centered approach that prioritizes the right to asylum per E.U. law and fundamental principles of international refugee law to which they remain bound," the coalition concluded. "They should not, mere weeks after the reform has passed, waste further time and resources on proposals that are incompatible with European and international law."

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