A fair and efficient asylum system for people seeking protection in Europe

Around the world, protracted crises and sudden-onset emergencies have left millions of people displaced from their homes.

Around the world, protracted crises and sudden-onset emergencies have left millions of people displaced from their homes. While most of these people stay within their own country or the wider region, some people seek international protection in Europe.

The reception systems in European countries of first arrival – especially in Greece and Italy – are over capacity. People seeking asylum often lack sufficient access to healthcare or running water, and are at major risk of a COVID-19 health crisis.

Poor and unsafe conditions often push people seeking asylum out of the official system, and they lack information about legal ways to claim asylum or reunite with their family in other European countries. This contravenes international and European law on access to asylum.

This situation needs to be changed with the implementation of the new EU Pact for Migration and Aslyum.

EU policies leave people trapped in dangerous “hotspot” camps in Greece

The 2016 EU-Turkey migration deal aims to deport people seeking asylum from Greece. It has resulted in a dangerous and unsustainable situation on the Greek islands close to the Turkish borders. Oxfam and its partner organisation, the Greek Council for Refugees, as well as other NGOs and the media have been documenting numerous violations of human rights and of EU law by Greek authorities, which undermine the rights of refugees to live in a safe environment, access to basic services, and undergo fair asylum procedures.

The externalisation of migration policies harm those most vulnerable

Ill-conceived EU migration policies are also subjecting the EU’s engagement with third countries to achieving political gains in Europe. European leaders push to channel scarce development aid into efforts to curb migration rather than reduce poverty, undermining the EU’s credibility as an international partner and trapping women, men and children in unsafe situations.

Development funds under the EU Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) are increasingly made conditional on governments’ buy-in to European priorities. Holding development aid hostage holds back efforts to build resilience, economic development, and human mobility, which could all help improve the lives of people in Africa.

The interception of migrants and refugees at sea, by the EU-backed Libyan coastguard is a notorious example of short-sighted EU cooperation with, and funding for, authorities which fuel human trafficking and the arbitrary detention of refugees in horrific and dangerous conditions.

EU governments should share responsibility for people seeking safety in Europe and overhaul asylum systems

The European Union should implement an asylum system that is safe, fair and effective, and ensure that all people seeking asylum live in dignity and safety. This is of particular importance at the EU’s external borders, where people often arrive exhausted and in need of urgent – and sometimes life-saving – assistance.

EU states should share responsibility for hosting refugees and ensure refugee family members can reunite across countries. Europe also needs to implement strong search and rescue operations with the sole objective of saving lives.

The EU must prioritise human rights, sustainable development and the fight against inequality in its entire external action agenda.

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the value that migrants hold in the economic and social survival of our societies. Development aid should unlock this potential, enable people on the move to live safe and dignified lives, and contribute to a fair and green recovery from the pandemic.