To tackle refugee upheaval in Europe
The report of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) discloses that 65.3 million people including refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced were forced to flee from their home in 2015 which is the largest total UNHCR has ever estimated. It also shows that one in every 113 people on the planet is now either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee. This unprecedented number of refuges shuddered the stability of the world particularly Europe where a vast number of refugees are approaching with each passing day. UNHCR estimated that since the beginning of 2016, 83,000 people came to Europe by sea. The EU statistics agency reported that 1.26 million people applied for asylum in the EU in 2015. It also estimates that another three million irregular migrants will reach Europe until 2017. The restless conflicts, violence and civil wars in the Middle East and the political instability in Africa are mostly blamed for this ongoing refugee crisis. While tacking this refugee crisis and relocating the people, EU member states are taking diverse measures instead of concerted measures that raise questions.
Though the road to Europe for refugees is risky, they prefer to reach Europe because the EU pledges for both the right to non-refoulment (Article 19(2), EU Charter of Fundamental Rights), and the right to asylum (Article 18, EU Charter of Fundamental Rights). In addition to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, Common European Asylum System (CEAS) and its implementing tool, the Dublin Regulation mainly comprise the legal framework in Europe that deal with protection of refugees.
European Court of Human rights through its judgments endorses obligations upon states regarding protection of asylum seekers and refugees. CEAS, the main instrument to regulate asylum applications in Europe was developed to respond the inadequacies relating to refugee protection arising out of state-centred territorial reaction against migrants and refugees. It aimed to set out 'common high standards and stronger cooperation to ensure that asylum seekers are treated equally in an open and fair system'.
With a view to implementing the CEAS, the Dublin regulation II aims to identify the responsible EU member state to analyse an asylum application and to stop the misuse of asylum processes.
It is interesting to note that while EU and its Member States expressed commitment to guarantee protection to the asylum seekers through CEAS in one hand, but on the other hand they applied restrictive immigration policies and strategies going beyond their protection commitment.
The EU approach towards refugees that combines asylum with immigration has been considered undesirable on the ground that immigration law is concerned with controlling entry while refugee law deals with international protection. While dealing with migration flows, EU member states only prefer skilled workers from the vast number of displaced people. Britain in this case seems to be in a strict position which refused to take refugees except skilled migrants. Though Britain promised to resettle 20000 people by 2020, after Brexit it becomes doubtful.
Another criticism against EU approaches to refugees is apparent from the notion of safe third countries under Dublin System. Under Dublin II regulation, while determining the state responsible for examination, the asylum application may be diverted towards 'safe third countries' where there would be 'presumably' no risk of persecution or refoulment. This notion of safe third countries is practically used as a procedural device that permits the state authorities to reject asylum application on 'unfounded' and 'inadmissible' grounds even without considering the merits of the application.
While the aim of international bodies including United Nations is to protect refugees somewhere, the objective of safe third countries is to provide protection elsewhere. The unfortunate point is that Europe does not want to become a safer source of place for refugees and accordingly they adopt controlling and escaping policies. However, the magnitude number of refugees somehow (mostly illegally) managed to reach Europe and EU failed to cope up with the crisis due to their outdated system.
In this backdrop, it is recommended that EU approaches towards refugees should be fashioned in a way that creates balance between migration control measures and refugee protection. The controversial notion of safe third countries under Dublin System should be revisited emphasising the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. The EU and its member states should develop an early warning system and emergency response measures to deal with the recurrent refugee influx.
Finally, EU member states should come forward to measure the impact of risk generated by the current upheaval and allocate resources to implement necessary measures and decide what number of refugees they can share based on their capacities.
The writer is a Lecturer, Department of Law, University of Dhaka.