Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The New Asylum Package

I've decide this post will speak for itself and have added nothing. Make up your own mind on what it means to our already overcrowded island and the importance of leaving the European Union.

EP Civil Liberties Committee approves "asylum package"
Immigration - 28-04-2009 - 12:32

A package of measures to improve the way the EU asylum system works and strengthen asylum seekers' rights was approved by the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee on Monday. MEPs adopted amendments to enhance solidarity between Member States when managing asylum applications. The four co-decision reports that make up the package will come before the full Parliament next week in Strasbourg.

The first piece of legislation, which received support from the report by Antonio Masip Hidalgo (PES, ES) and was adopted by the committee by 33 votes to 1 with 1 abstention, is intended to beef up the right of asylum seekers to adequate reception conditions: it lays down standards that must be guaranteed in terms of housing, food, clothing, health care, financial benefits, freedom of movement and access to work. The text also includes provisions on the protection of vulnerable people, such as minors, unaccompanied minors, pregnant women and victims of torture and violence.

Rules on the use of detention

According to the draft legislation, the use of detention should be decided on a case-by-case basis, and asylum seekers should not be held in prisons but in specialised detention facilities. Legal guarantees against arbitrary detention must be introduced. The detention of unaccompanied minors must be banned.

Free legal assistance for asylum seekers

Only the judicial authorities should have the power to order detention, says the legislation. Administrative authorities can do so only in emergency cases and their decision must be confirmed by the judiciary within 72 hours. In the absence of a decision, the asylum seeker concerned must be freed immediately. Asylum seekers placed in detention must be informed in a language they understand, or that it is reasonable to assume they understand, and receive legal assistance and free representation if they wish it. They must also be able to receive medical care and appropriate psychological support.

MEPs believe that the administrative procedures for asylum applications must be carried out swiftly and that delays which are not the fault of the asylum seeker cannot justify an extension of the detention period.

In addition, they believe that access to work must be guaranteed within six months after a request for international protection has been lodged. Minors must have access to education within three months.

Vulnerable people

Member States are required to check, as soon as request for international protection is lodged, whether the applicant has special needs: vulnerable people, including minors, pregnant women and victims of torture and violence, or victims of female genital mutilation, must receive adequate attention, say MEPs. They add that torture victims must be directed quickly towards a care centre suited to their situation. Member States must also assist family unification and guardians must be designated to advise and protect unaccompanied minors.

Rehousing of asylum seekers

A second proposal in the asylum package seeks to improve the Dublin regulation of 2003. The purpose of this regulation was to ensure access to the asylum application procedure and guarantee swift processing of applications, while preventing multiple applications by one person in several different Member States. The proposals seeks to guarantee higher standards of protection for individuals and cope better with situations in which the reception capacity of asylum systems of the Member States are under particular pressure. It lays down deadlines to make the procedure for determining responsibility more efficient and quicker. It also includes provisions guaranteeing that all the needs of those applying for international protection are covered and that sufficient legal guarantees are laid down, such as the right of appeal against transfer decisions, including the right to legal aid, to representation and to family unification. It also reaffirms the principle that nobody may be placed in detention simply because they are applying for international protection.

The report by Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert (ALDE,NL), which was adopted unanimously, backs these principles. However, it proposes that solidarity between Member States be enhanced by means of compulsory instruments such as the formation of teams of national experts to assist Member States confronted with a large number of asylum applications, and the creation of a rehousing programme to enable beneficiaries of international protection to be received by a Member State other than the one that granted them this protection.

Improving the Eurodac fingerprint database

The Dublin system could not work without a system for identifying foreign nationals who have already lodged an asylum application in another Member State. This system is Eurodac, a digital set-up for comparing fingerprints, which has been in operation since 2003. The proposal in the asylum package seeks to improve the general functioning of the system, to clarify the different stages of its operation and to lay down rules on data protection. Member States will be required to delete data no longer needed for the purposes for which it was collected. The report by Nicolae Vlad Popa (EPP-ED, RO), adopted by 28 votes to 4 with 3 abstentions, supports this proposal with some technical improvements.

An office to help Member States

Lastly, the Civil Liberties Committee adopted, nem con with one abstention, a report by Jean Lambert (Greens/EFA, UK) approving the creation of a European Asylum Support Office. This body will provide expert assistance to help implement EU asylum policy and will boost cooperation between Member States and help those subject to particular pressures. MEPs want this office to develop, in conjunction with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and relevant NGOs, training programmes on asylum for members of national civil services. The office must also put in place an early warning system to enable Member States and the Commission to anticipate large-scale influxes of applicants for international protection as well as a system of mandatory solidarity for rehousing beneficiaries of international protection of any Member States whose national asylum system are overloaded.

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