Promoting member state solidarity and cooperation in the management of asylum

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Triandafyllidou_opinionAnna Triandafyllidou is Director of the GGP Research Strand on Cultural Pluralism at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (RSCAS). She is also the Scientific Coordinator of the Accept Pluralism project, which looks into the concept, policies and practices of non-tolerance, tolerance and acceptance of cultural and religious diversity in 15 European countries.

Asylum is a common concern for both Northern and Southern European countries. Southern countries are exposed to pressures at their borders because of their geographical proximity to zones of instability and conflict. Meanwhile, Northern European countries have traditionally been the preferred destinations of asylum seekers from all over the world. Thus both groups of countries have a common concern to share this burden, and to look at the problem from different perspectives:

Southern European countries simultaneously face the pressure of irregular migration and asylum seeking and have to find ways to effectively filter applications. This pressure however, leads countries like Greece to use detention as a standard measure with the goal of deterring people from crossing the country’s borders (regardless of whether they are irregular migrants or asylum seekers), holding people in appalling detention conditions without respect for their fundamental rights, thus seeking to pressurise the European Union to take responsibility.

Northern European countries are better ‘protected’ from irregular migration because of their geographical position and hence face mostly the problem of properly processing applications rather than that of filtering them at their borders. During the first quarter of 2014, asylum applications in the EU rose by 30% (compared with the same period in 2013). Germany accounts for more than 60% of this increase while Sweden is the country with the highest number of asylum applicants per million inhabitants.

Italy has stood out recently for its policy on the matter: Operation Mare Nostrum, costing over €10 million per month, has saved the lives of tens of thousands of people traveling from the Middle East, Africa and Asia crossing the Mediterranean in search of protection or better job prospects. At the same time, during the first three months of 2014 Italy has registered the second highest increase in asylum applications within the EU (compared to the same period in 2013).

There is an important gap though in the asylum acquis: while rejections are valid throughout the EU (the asylum seeker cannot apply again in another country), positive decisions do not provide for an EU status. There is no obligation for member states to recognize positive decisions by another member state.

It is crucial therefore to promote (through the European Asylum Support Office work) cooperation with the southern member states that facing the pressures of mixed migration and asylum flows, whereby experts form other member states work together with national forces to sort and process asylum applications. Such joint operations can lead not only to better and faster processing but also build trust among member states and thus pave the way for mutual recognition of positive asylum decisions. In addition, creating a common EU status of refugee or person benefiting of subsidiary protection is necessary so that asylum seekers processed and recognised in one country may move freely within the EU and, if they wish to do so, relocate to another member state.

Mutual recognition of positive decisions would be the necessary incentive and ‘reward’ for southern European countries to put more effort and resources to improving their asylum systems. At the same time, it would ensure a proper implementation of Dublin III and hence avoid the scenario whereby some member states in northern Europe have to temporarily interrupt the Dublin III provisions (i.e. interrupting the so called “Dublin returns” to a southern country) because of the inhumane and degrading treatment suffered by migrants in parts of Southern Europe. This would allow both groups of member states to feel that their needs were being listened to and addressed by the European asylum regime.