UN refugee agency concerned by new EU law on asylum seekers

The Asylum Procedures Directive, agreed to yesterday in Luxembourg and which regulates how decisions on asylum claims are made in EU Member States, contains no binding commitment to satisfactory procedural standards, and could allow States to adopt or continue worst practices in determining asylum claims, the UN High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) said. “UNHCR is disappointed that EU States have failed to live up to the commitments they made at the beginning of the harmonization process in Tampere in 1999,” agency spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva. “There, they affirmed their ‘absolute respect of the right to seek asylum’ – and commitment to work towards establishing a common European asylum system based on the full and inclusive application of the 1951 Geneva Convention,” he added. UNHCR said the most worrisome aspect concerns rules permitting the designation – with insufficient safeguards – of so-called “safe third countries” to which asylum seekers may be returned, and rules that allow countries to deport rejected asylum seekers before the results of their appeals are known – thus in practice removing their right to an effective remedy in the event of an error. The EU’s move comes ahead of its enlargement to 25 members tomorrow, when it will expand eastward with the addition of 10 countries – Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Anticipating the change, other UN agencies commented on the effects of the new state of affairs. An official of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said it was imperative the EU embrace former Soviet countries – such as the Russian Federation, Belarus and Ukraine – if it wanted to succeed. Kalman Mizsei, Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) told a press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York that people in these countries should not be ignored, because, in all the world, they were the least favoured by European Union trading agreements. He noted that HIV/AIDS was spreading extremely quickly in Russia and Ukraine, in part because most European sex workers came from those two countries, and that the European Union should address this negative side effect of social and economic transition since the continent was interconnected. Meanwhile the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said the EU expansion presented a unique opportunity to strengthen stability and the rule of law. “The enlarged European Union faces the historic opportunity to secure well-being and justice for its 450 million citizens. The Union should also assist countries further east to adopt and practice the same high standards of governance,” said Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa. read more