The new pact on asylum and migration will further undermine the rights of asylum seekers-this is why


Idag skriver en gäst på vår blogg, Evie Papada. Författaren kommenterar vad den nya EU-pakten om migration skulle kunna innebära, genom en jämförelse med hur mottagandet fungerar redan idag i Grekland. Förslagen till gränsprocedur och urskiljande av sårbara=skyddsvärda personer påminner om proceduren i Grekland som fått diskriminerande effekter och underminerat rätten till asyl.

The New Pact on Asylum and Migration presented by Commissioner Ylva Johansson uses less contentious language than its predecessor, the 2015 European Agenda on Migration; at its core, however, lies the age-old EU asylum and migration strategy of preventing arrivals at all costs. Amongst other, the Pact proposes extended use of asylum and return border procedures for Member States. The proposed Common Procedures for International Protection (CPIP) is meant to repeal the 2013 EU Asylum Procedures Directive (APD). Border asylum procedures become mandatory for nationals enjoying less than 20% in EU refugee recognition rates, extending to nationals where the EU protection rate is under 75% during periods of crisis. This will invariably result to procedural unfairness, with individuals subjected to asylum procedures of differential standards depending on their nationality and point of entry. Findings from a recent study on the border asylum procedures implemented on the island of Lesbos draw attention to a number of problematic conclusions[i].

Asylum border procedures are substandard and discriminatory

Contrary to current proposals, the APD restricted the use of border procedures to be applied in cases where the admissibility of the asylum application is examined. Already the limited character of the APD’s border procedures have left an irredeemable damage to the integrity of the Greek asylum process as a whole. The Greek government transposed the APD into its national legislation days after the completion of the EU-Turkey Agreement, adopting the so-called fast track border procedures. Introduced as a temporary and extraordinary measure, the new border procedures were meant to facilitate the admissibility of asylum applications launched by individuals entering from Turkey onto the Aegean islands following March 2016, under the pretext that Turkey is now considered as a safe third country. Ever since, it has mattered greatly if an asylum seeker crosses into the Aegean islands instead of the land border in Evros as they are exposed to entirely different procedural regimes.

As its title suggests, the purpose of this procedure is to examine and decide speedily (no more than two weeks) on the outcome of a claim for international protection. Unlike the regular border procedure which applies in the rest of the country, the focus on a speedier examination of asylum claims has meant a reduction in standards, procedural guarantees and safeguards. As a direct result, many asylum seekers have not received a fair hearing of their case, given that admissibility procedures do not examine reasons for persecution but rather tests the country responsible for examining an asylum application. Fast track border procedures were further accompanied by an order of geographical restriction, obliging those arriving on the Greek Aegean islands to remain there for the duration of the process. Squalid and substandard living conditions resulting from the introduction of the geographical restriction have been aptly documented in international media and have raised widespread condemnation.

Asylum case management in the Reception and Identification Centres (RICs) on the Aegean islands has since been carried out based on a priori distinctions between nationality groups with high and low recognition rates resulting in arbitrary and discriminatory practices, excluding individuals from various processes on the grounds of their nationality. It is also a retraction of one of the main principles upon which the post-World War II refugee regime is built, namely the examination of individual asylum claims. For quite some time, Syrian nationals were whisked through to admissibility procedures (since Turkey is considered a safe country for them) while those with less that 25 % recognition rate were rushed through eligibility procedures, were they were summarily issued deportation orders. Furthermore, it reinforced racial profiling and stereotyping as the majority of individuals with low overall recognition rates came from African and Asian countries.

They may undermine grounds for international protection

Exempt from fast track border procedures were those who had been found to fulfil one or more of the five vulnerability categories foreseen in Greek legislation; the vulnerable can automatically launch an asylum application in the regular procedure. The legal basis for this exemption lies in the enjoyment afforded to vulnerable asylum applicants of special procedural guarantees, which the fast track border procedures are by design unable to uphold. Reception and Identification Centres were established as the entities responsible for identifying vulnerable individuals including through a medical screening. In practice, vulnerability designations took place either prior to the registration of asylum or during the admissibility phase of the asylum border procedure. Given the exemption from fast track border procedures, vulnerability assessments soon became important for the outcome asylum process and a complimentary screening tool for operationalising the EU-Turkey Agreement.

On an operational level, vulnerability assessments were instrumentalised by authorities at the time in order to legitimise fast track border procedures. Politically, they had to ensure that Greece appears as a safe space with good reception conditions, in order to implement the Agreement. Vulnerability assessments provided thus exactly this reassurance that authorities respect human rights standards. RIC authorities soon realised that a separate vulnerability assessment may also provide the platform upon which they can operationalise the criteria for a safe third country. As my informants argued that the time, being exempt from admissibility procedures may well save your life”.

As far as the integrity of the asylum process is concerned, vulnerability assessments at the border have done more to undermine the grounds for granting international protection than it may appear on the surface. Deliberations on vulnerability by medical personnel and immigration case officers relied largely on the applicant’s visible characteristics (visible scars, pregnancies and so on) while perceptions regarding the geographical origin of vulnerability (whether it has been acquired prior or following one’s arrival at the Reception centre) weighed in substantially. Soon, the need to establish objective criteria in designating vulnerability categories resulted in an unprecedent medicalisation of an otherwise relational notion which cannot be divorced from internal and external conditions that shape it. As a result, applicants suffering from certain medical conditions ended up receiving favourable treatment as opposed to others, particularly torture victims who, unable to prove their ‘illness’, had their persecution claims discarded as futile attempts to deceive. Overall, the shifting of the burden to prove one’s vulnerability from the immigration case worker to the individual applicant, the sheer focus on her body, is incommensurable with the meaning of vulnerability as a measure of protection for those who are already in a vulnerable position by virtue of not being citizens, and hence require the state to take further steps in guaranteeing their rights during the asylum process. Crucially, asylum border procedures on the Aegean islands generated a momentous shift from the timeless right to the recognition of refugeeness and vulnerability towards a medico- juridical understanding that it is highly individualised, time-dependent and assessible.

As the findings of this study show, the application of border procedures does not only result in differential standards being applied but also seriously risk undermining protection standards for asylum applicants. The notion that asylum procedures can be implemented quickly continues to drive EU’s asylum strategy, particularly directed towards countries situated at EU’s territorial frontiers. More studies are needed to demonstrate the dangers that lie behind this assumption.

Evie Papada, Post-Doctoral Researcher at the University of Loughborough, UK

[1] ‘Borderline Vulnerabilities: An Institutional Ethnography of the Greek Asylum Process in Lesbos, Greece’ is part of a three-year funded doctoral study conducted by the author. The findings of this study will be eventually accessible through the Loughborough University’s online research depository

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