EU says asylum rules have to change

THE odds are stacked against asylum seekers who seek refuge in Europe and the rules must be changed, the European Commission has said.

Children being detained in jails, families being kept apart, countries refusing almost all requests, and places like Malta being faced with a huge influx of asylum seekers, must stop.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has been highly critical of the tough rules put in place by EU countries in response to anti-immigrant groups.

Ireland has seen a big reduction in asylum applications over the past two years, with less than 2,000 lodged in the first six months of this year. Most of them come from Africa with some from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

In the meantime, tiny Malta’s numbers have trebled, as it is one of the first places desperate refugees reach from North Africa and the Middle East.

Because the rules are interpreted differently in each EU member state, countries like Sweden, which make it easier for asylum seekers, find themselves inundated. This year they refused more applicants and the numbers coming fell by a third.

Iraqis fleeing war mostly arrive first in Greece, where they are almost certain to be refused asylum. Even if they move to another EU country and apply there, because they first entered the EU through Greece, under the terms of the so-called Dublin directive, they will be sent back there.

To try to correct some of this and give asylum seekers a fairer hearing, the European Commission has proposed changes to the Dublin directive that would mean people would not be sent back to countries already overburdened.

For instance, Cyprus has almost 10 times as many asylum seekers per head of population as the average throughout the EU.

“This is injustice,” said justice commissioner Jacques Barrot.

It was also unjust on asylum seekers whose treatment often depended on where they came from. “Chechens have a much better chance of getting asylum in Austria than Slovakia for instance,” he said.

He believes there should be a central clearing house where decisions about transfers within the EU should be made.

He also wants unaccompanied children and families reunited, irrespective of which EU country they first enter. Ireland has opted into the Dublin directive, but whether they will adopt the changes will depend on the Oireachtas agreeing to them.

The new proposals also deal with the way asylum seekers are treated, including not detaining them other than in exceptional circumstances, ensuring their human rights are respected and on the order of a judge with the right of appeal and free legal aid.

Asylum seekers should also be allowed to work within six months of coming to a country and not the current 12 months. Ireland has opted out of this Reception Directive, but this is likely to be reviewed by the Oireachtas too.

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