Legal response to migration continues: safe countries of origin list and visa waivers

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The European Parliament's civil liberties committee has approved texts on a common European list of "safe countries of origin" and the possibility of suspending visa-free travel for certain nationalities, with a view to reaching swift agreements with the Council. Plans to establish an EU-wide list of safe countries of origin were included in the May 2015 European Agenda on Migration (pdf), which also hinted at changes to visa waiver rules.


Safe third countries

The European Parliament's press release says:

"The future EU common list of safe countries of origin, which should help member states to process certain asylum applications faster and more consistently, should replace today’s national lists after a three-year transition period, Civil Liberties Committee MEPs agreed on Thursday. The EU Commission will assess which countries should be included, removed or temporarily suspended from the list."

According to the Parliamentary rapporteur for the file, French MEP Sylvie Guillaume from the Socialists & Democrats group: “applying the concept of a safe country of origin in no way dispenses with the duty to carry out an appropriate individual examination of the relevant asylum applications”. This includes "offering applicants a personal interview and, following Parliament´s amendments, an automatic suspensive effect of appeals."

See: Asylum: EU list of safe countries of origin to replace national lists in 3 years (pdf)

The Commission's proposal was met with criticism from ECRE when it was published last October:

"ECRE seriously questions the compatibility of the safe country of origin concept with international refugee law, as it is at odds with the obligation on states under the 1951 Refugee Convention to treat refugees without discrimination based on their country of origin. The use of safe country lists, whether nationally designated or at EU level, further contributes to a practice of stereotyping certain applications on the basis of their nationality and increases the risk of such applications not being subject to a thorough examination of a person’s fear for persecution or risk of serious harm on an individual basis, which is at the core of the refugee definition and crucial to ensuring full respect for the principle of non-refoulement"

See: ECRE Comments on the proposal for an EU common list of safe countries of origin (Statewatch News Online, October 2015)

Visa waivers

"Plans to strengthen the EU’s visa suspension mechanism, which enables it to temporarily reintroduce visa requirements for third-country nationals in the event of sudden surges in irregular immigration, unfounded asylum applications or a failure to cooperate with the EU on “readmissions” (i.e. returns), were amended and approved by Civil Liberties Committee MEPs on Thursday. MEPs widened the range of grounds upon which a visa waiver may be suspended."

See: EP press release: Civil liberties MEPs back plans to make it easier to suspend visa waivers (pdf)

And: MEPs back visa-free travel suspension mechanism (EurActiv, link):

"Members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs agreed today (7 July) that visa-free travel for non-EU citizens on EU territory can be suspended in particular circumstances.

MEPs today decided that the EU should have a suspension mechanism in place as an emergency brake in cases where visa-free travel in the EU is being abused by certain non-EU nationals. This suspension mechanism would apply to all non-EU countries which have visa-free travel arrangements with the EU."


This article was corrected on 24 August 2016 to change references to "safe third countries" to "safe countries of origin".

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