Exclusive - press release on "safe countries of origin" list

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Press release, 27 September 2004 - Statewatch Exclusive

  • EU divided over list of "safe countries of origin" - the list should be scrapped
  • Secret documents reveal a shallow process without any sense of morality or humanity

An analysis by Statewatch, based on secret documents, shows that EU member states are divided over the proposed list of ten "safe countries of origin" (seven in Africa, three in Latin America). On the basis of this analysis Statewatch calls for the list to be scrapped.

The intention is to declare any and all asylum applications from these countries as "unfounded" (inadmissible). The European Commission is opposed to the inclusion of all seven African countries, Sweden and Finland to including four African countries, Germany and Estonia three African countries. A meeting of the EU's Asylum Working Party on 17 September received a report from the Presidency (Netherlands) which concludes that the seven African countries (Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mali, Mauritius and Senegal) are "safe countries of origin".

The list is part of the proposed asylum procedures Directive which is going back to the European Parliament under the "consultation" procedure. There have been substantial changes to the first draft which the parliament rejected. The list has to be agreed unanimously by the Council of the European Union (the 25 member states) as part of the Directive on asylum procedures which is scheduled for adoption in December.

All EU member states were asked to give their opinion on "safe countries" on the list according to a set of standards covering democracy, the rule of law and human rights. They were supplied with the country reports from the US State Department and Amnesty International (where available). The submitted responses from member states are not made public. Many recorded the view that there were fundamental abuses in the countries but still recommended their inclusion on the list. A number of member states complained that they had too little time and information to make a credible assessment. The unaccountable "G5" grouping of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK has agreed the need for a common list and are likely to try and put pressure on the smaller member states to agree the measure unanimously.

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:

"The "safe country of origin" principle is in contradiction to the human rights obligations of EU member states. On the one hand the member states have highlighted a catalogue of human rights concerns in countries on the proposed list. On the other they are declaring these countries safe because their legal systems theoretically prevent those abuses.

By the EU's own criteria the seven African states on the proposed EU list cannot be seen as "safe" and this will be used as a basis for declaring asylum applications "unfounded" or inadmissible. It is this policy which is "manifestly unfounded" not requests for asylum from the citizens of those countries.

Our analysis provides an insight into how EU decisions are made, with too little time, too little information, and no public debate and the appalling results of such a decision-making process. To determine the fate of people fleeing from poverty and persecution on the basis of such a shallow process is an insult to any sense of humanity or moral responsibility, let alone legal obligations - the list should be scrapped."

1. Exclusive: Statewatch Analysis: EU divided over list of "safe countries of origin" - the list should be scrapped (pdf)
2. Appendix to this report with full details of all the EU member state responses: Detailed member state responses (pdf)
3. Sources - documentst - including member state responses

Guardian, 27.9.04: EU asylum list prompts human rights fears (link)

For further information: tel: 00 44 208 802 1882 e-mail: office@statewatch.org

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