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Asylum: common standards and higher efficiency - 21/10/2009

Asylum seekers in a queue © EC

New rules proposed to put a stop to European ‘asylum lottery’.

The EU is rewriting its rules on who is entitled to asylum and how countries make that decision.

The aim is to guarantee a higher level of protection for victims of persecution, prevent fraud, and achieve a more even application of the laws across the EU. Currently there are large disparities in national acceptance rates for refugee applications.

Seeking asylum in Europe is often likened to playing the lottery – except the stakes are much higher. Unsuccessful candidates face deportation and, if they do need protection, the possibility of more persecution back home.

Despite EU efforts to standardise asylum procedures over the last decade, the chances an applicant will succeed still vary tremendously depending on the country processing the claim.

Figures show that a Chechen, for example, stands a strong chance of being granted refugee status in some countries but almost no hope in others. The same is true for Iraqis.

Odds like these explain why many refugees travel through Europe to reach a country where they have a better chance of being granted residency. Such movement across borders – known as asylum shopping – is illegal; asylum-seekers are supposed to hand in their applications in the first EU country they reach.

Existing EU laws have been found to leave EU countries too much latitude. The rules tabled by the commission would leave less room for interpretation and speed up the examination process. EU countries would have to wrap up procedures within six months of the application.

Refugees are defined as people fleeing religious, ethnic or political persecution. Under international law they have a right to protection, even if they enter the EU illegally.

The EU is a major destination for asylum-seekers, with nearly 240 000 applications recorded in 2008. Decisions were taken on 193 690 new claims, 73% of which were rejected.

Most applicants were from Iraq, Russia, Somalia, Serbia and Afghanistan – in that order.

France had the most applicants (41 800), followed by the UK, Germany, Sweden, Greece, Belgium and the Netherlands. Malta and Cyprus had the highest number of applicants per resident.

The proposals now go to the council and parliament for comment and approval.

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