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EU: All refugee status to be temporary and terminated as soon as possible
01 December 2002
Secret discussions among ministers and civil servants in the Council of the European Union (the 15 EU governments) about the Directive proposed by the European Commission on the definition of 'refugee/subsidiary protection" raise two major causes for public concern:
1. from next year, all new successful applicants for refugee or subsidiary protection status across the EU would have their situation reviewed regularly with a view to terminating their status as soon as possible
2. the EU is planning to break key parts of the Geneva Convention concerning exclusion from and termination of refugee status - so that despite the EU Member States' international obligations, fewer people will get refugee or other protection status in the EU.
Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, said:
"We are entering the end-game: from 1991 onwards the EU told people fleeing from poverty that their applications for asylum would automatically be considered "manifestly unfounded". Now those seeking sanctuary from persecution, torture and inhuman treatment are only to be given temporary status as a matter of policy. Their status is to be under constant review so that they can be repatriated at the earliest opportuntiy (potentially even through forced return) if EU governments decide it is "safe" for them.
The influence of rightwing governments in the EU is now becoming very apparent. The Danish government, which currenlty holds the Presidency of The Council of the European Union, is seeking to advance its own recently adopted policies - and all the other EU governments and officials have quickly endorsed the same approach.
Anyone with any morality or compassion will be appalled by this proposal. Any legislator with any principles will have to reject it."
According to the European Community Treaty, the EC must act 'in accordance with' the 1951 Geneva Convention on the status of asylum seekers when it agrees law relating to refugees and asylum-seekers. Similarly, the EU summit in Tampere in 1999 committed the EU to respect the 'full and inclusive application' of the Geneva Convention.
Have these obligations and principles been applied? In 2001, the Commission proposed a Directive on the definition of 'refugee' and of 'subsidiary protection', a form of back-up status for those who need to seek safety from death, torture or persecution in another country but who fall outside the definition of 'refugee' in the Geneva Convention. This was a relatively positive proposal, although it could have been further improved.
The first planned EU decision would have a devastating impact on those persons recognised by a Member State to have a perfectly legitimate argument to stay as a refugee or because of a similar need for protection. From now on, Member States will constantly be checking to see if the 'coast is clear' to terminate their status and remove them as soon as possible. This is despite the huge uncertainty this will add to the lives of people who have already faced trauma and the clear evidence that refugees make a major economic contribution to host countries. For example, will refugee doctors still be able to requalify in host states, and will hospitals hire them, knowing that the authorities plan to remove them as soon as possible?
The second planned EU decision would potentially cut off refugee status from people who have even remote links to alleged violence in their countries of origin (often based on dubious "intelligence" from security services) and would mean that many refugees who commit possibly even petty crimes will be barred from the access to employment, housing and benefits that the Geneva Convention guarantees for refugees--potentially leaving them homeless and penniless.
Inspired by the far right?
The idea of mandatory review of the status of persons accepted as refugees or persons needing other forms of