With every disaster at the European gates, the European Union’s common policy on asylum is blamed for the failure, but a collective agreement on reforming it is still missing.
Despite the recently reported significant drop in the number of asylum seekers in Europe, the European Union is still struggling to find a balance between its internal security and its ineluctable responsibility to end the exploitation, smuggling, and death of migrants, human rights activists warn on World Refugee Day.
The refugee crisis has made getting to Europe daunting even for those who do not come as refugees.
Borhan Alzibi is from Syria and is married to a woman from Romania, an EU member state. In theory, he shouldn’t have faced any difficulties joining his wife in Bucharest. He was asked though to apply for family reunification three times. When finally his application was approved he flew to Romania, only to be detained at the border, accused of holding a fake passport and sent the next morning back to Turkey, where he was detained for ten days during an investigation procedure. With the help of his wife and lawyer he was eventually released, and he decided to reach Romania illegally.
The legal way did not work, so I thihght, let’s try the illegal way, as everybody did”, Borhan remembers.
He took one of the “death boats” from Turkey and ended up in the Souda camp on the Greek island of Chios where the humanitarian situation was shocking. “I witnessed three suicide attempts. The conditions, the food, the camps or the reception centres lack the minimum of human dignity” he adds. He kept himself busy with volunteering work until, after more than ten months, his asylum application was approved and he could finally join his wife in Europe.
Borhan’s story was presented at an event organized by JRS Europe, an international Catholic refugee relief group at the Brussels Press Club to mark the World Refugee Day, June 20 and draw attention to the challenges facing the European policies on migration. The event, “FORGOTTEN AT THE GATES OF EUROPE: Ongoing protection concerns at the EU” brought together more than thirty policy makers, activists, professionals and academics from different organisations working on refugee issues who shared their thoughts about integration, protection, push-back policy, the status of the reception centres, and other major migration concerns.
Common cemetery vs common policy?
Elly Schlein, a member of the European Parliament, compared the EU common policy against the illegal migrants to organising a “common cemetery” in the Mediterranean.
You’ve heard what happened in the Aquarius last week. It is a shame, it is not only a shame, but it violates fundamental rights and international rights of the sea!
Ms. Schlein pointed out the European Parliament has to work on cancelling the “hypocritical criteria” of the first county of irregular entry and replace them with an automatic, permanent mechanism for relocation.
Theoretically one of the goals of Dublin is that everyone would be able to have their asylum procedure processed somewhere, but then it turns into an obstacle when refugees fear that they might be stuck in the country where they arrived if they applied for asylum while they have other family members somewhere else,” she says.
What’s happening with people trying to enter Europe legally
The lack of information and legal assistance, the bad reception conditions, the detention, and prohibiting the secondary movement in the EU area are among the key problems addressed in the report of JRS Europe’s 3-year project Protection at the External Borders.
Stefan Maier, Senior Policy Officer of UNHCR Regional Representation for EU Affairs, provided a brief overview of UNHCR proposal “BETTER PROTECTING REFUGEES IN THE EU AND GLOBALLY”. The proposal points out the European registration system, simplified procedures for asylum determination, prioritisation of family reunion, and a common approach to unaccompanied and separated children.
Julia Behrens, Legal Research Officer of EU Fundamental Rights Agency shared the findings of the Agency’s reports on the situation of people arriving in the EU. One of the key concerns was related to the actions of the border police during the refusal of entry and the forced returns.
One of the big issues is the increase of physical violence of the border guards and authorities that was reported in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Spain.
June 20 was declared World Refugee Day in 2000 by the United Nations General Assembly marking the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, one of the founding multilateral treaties defining the status refugees and setting out the rights of people who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum.
This story was written for the OPEN Media Hub by Assil Alnaser, a Master candidate in Internation Relations at The Maxwell School of Syracuse University. She is a human rights activists working on refugee rights in the Middle East and Europe.