Asylum is granted to people fleeing persecution or serious harm in their own country and therefore in need of international protection. Asylum is a fundamental right; granting it is an international obligation, first recognised in the 1951 Geneva Convention on the protection of refugees. In the EU, an area of open borders and freedom of movement, countries share the same fundamental values and States need to have a joint approach to guarantee high standards of protection for refugees. Procedures must at the same time be fair and effective throughout the EU and impervious to abuse. With this in mind, the EU States have committed to establishing a Common European Asylum System.
Asylum flows are not constant, nor are they evenly distributed across the EU. They have, for example, varied from a peak of 425 000 applications for EU-27 States in 2001 down to under 200 000 in 2006. In 2012, there were 335,895.
Asylum must not be a lottery. EU Member States have a shared responsibility to welcome asylum seekers in a dignified manner, ensuring they are treated fairly and that their case is examined to uniform standards so that, no matter where an applicant applies, the outcome will be similar.
Since 1999, the EU has been working to create a Common European Asylum System (CEAS) and improve the current legislative framework.
Between 1999 and 2005, several legislative measures harmonising common minimum standards for asylum were adopted. Also important was the strengthening of financial solidarity with the creation of the European Refugee Fund. And in 2001, the Temporary Protection Directive allowed for a common EU response to a mass influx of displaced persons unable to return to their country of origin. The Family Reunification Directive also applies to refugees.
After the completion of the first phase, a period of reflection was necessary to determine the direction in which the CEAS should develop. A 2007 Green Paper was the basis for a large public consultation. The responses, together with the results of an evaluation of how existing instruments were implemented, were the basis for the European Commission’s Policy Plan on Asylum, presented in June 2008. As stated in the Policy Plan, three pillars underpin the development of the CEAS: bringing more harmonisation to standards of protection by further aligning the EU States' asylum legislation; effective and well-supported practical cooperation; increased solidarity and sense of responsibility among EU States, and between the EU and non-EU countries.
New EU rules have now been agreed, setting out common high standards and stronger co-operation to ensure that asylum seekers are treated equally in an open and fair system – wherever they apply. In short: