Refugee civil rights ‘under attack’

REFUGEES could be sent home under a new directive which will strip them of their status and breach the Geneva Convention, civil rights groups warned yesterday.

Details of the planned directive were revealed yesterday by European civil rights watchdog Statewatch.

Planned for June 2003, it will include provisions for all EU member states to continually review successful refugee applicants with a view to withdrawing their refugee status as soon as possible.

The Geneva Convention does allow for refugee status to be withdrawn, though the provision is largely ignored. However, the directive would set minimum standards across the community which each member state would be obliged to enforce.

Despite Europe’s international obligations, other measures contained in the directive will break aspects of the Geneva Convention in a bid to ensure fewer people will get refugee or other protection status in the EU.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said the European proposal protected refugees just as much as the 1996 Refugee Act, but refugee groups said the measures involved increasing the number of grounds under which member states can exclude asylum seekers while also adding new and additional grounds for terminating refugee status.

Amnesty International said the measures were an attempt to weaken international obligations. Its Irish refugee officer, Ursula Fraiser, said there was no need to make stronger provisions to return refugees and that Ireland had a moral obligation to ensure no one was returned to a dangerous situation: “Revocation of status and consequent return, if it is to take place, must be done in safety and with dignity. This would include an onus on Ireland to at least ensure that the human rights conditions are completely safe and that the political situation is stable in the long-term.”

James Stapelton, policy officer for the Irish Refugee Council, called on the Government to oppose any move that would breach the Geneva refugee convention: “We would be saying very clearly to the Irish Government that we should not act in accordance with this nor should it be accepted as minimum standard in Europe. How long does a refugee have to spend in a country before they can feel safe from being sent home? These people would have already endured intolerable stress and are proven to have been subjected to persecution and now they will always feel they may be returned.”

The Department of Justice said last night that the directive was part of a series of legal instruments proposed by the European Commission which are aimed at the creation of a common EU asylum system.

“Discussions are ongoing at EU level on the directive and are not likely to conclude until the middle of 2003,” said a spokesperson.

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