PN300404F

EMBARGOED UNTIL 00.01

FRIDAY 30 APRIL 2004

LORDS CALL FOR BETTER ASYLUM DECISION-MAKING 

Proposals to transfer some asylum seekers in the EU to another country for their claims to be decided raise formidable difficulties, according to a report published today. The Lords EU Committee recommends instead action to improve and accelerate domestic asylum determination procedures.

 Baroness Harris of Richmond, who chaired the inquiry, said:

"Handling heavy and fluctuating asylum caseloads presents a major challenge for most EU countries. But the British Government's and UNHCR's proposals for extra-territorial processing of asylum claims are not the answer.

"Shuffling people around the EU for their applications to be considered would be undesirable for the people concerned and raise serious legal difficulties. It would also be a logistical nightmare."

The Government has dropped its proposals for "transit processing centres", but UNHCR has put forward a similar proposal for EU asylum processing centres. The Committee identified a number of drawbacks to it:

  • uncertainty about which State would be responsible for the asylum decision and accountable for it

  • uncertainty about what legal procedures would apply (appeals etc)

  • practical difficulties of transferring people forcibly to the centres

  • the danger that such centres might, like Sangatte, act as magnets for asylum seekers.

The Committee also sees no case for transferring responsibility for deciding asylum claims from the Member States to a central EU authority.

The Committee identifies better quality decision-making in the Member States as the key to an effective determination process (at present in the UK over 20 per cent of initial refusals are overturned on appeal). It recommends:

  • more resources being put in at this stage

  • an independent documentation centre, ideally managed on an EU basis, to ensure that decisions are made on the basis of independently validated country information

  • the prompt removal or voluntary departure of failed asylum seekers

  • regularising the position of those whom the Home Office is unable or unwilling to remove. They should not be left "in limbo" without a legal status.

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

1. The inquiry was undertaken by Sub-Committee F (Home Affairs) of the European Union Committee. The current Members of the Sub-Committee are:

Lord Avebury

Earl of Caithness

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

Lord Dubs

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen

Baroness Harris of Richmond (Chairman)

Earl of Listowel

Viscount Ullswater

Lord Wright of Richmond

2. The report is published by The Stationery Office: Handling EU asylum claims: new approaches examined, House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union, 11th Report, Session 2003-04, HL Paper 74, ISBN 010 400443 6, price £20.00. The full text of the report will be available on the internet via www.parliament.uk shortly after publication.

3. The background to the inquiry was a proposal made by the Prime Minister last year for Transit processing centres (centres on the borders of the EU to which asylum applicants would be sent to have their applications processed); and Regional protection areas (safe areas close to asylum producing countries, where people could seek asylum nearer their home). The former idea has now been dropped, as have somewhat similar proposals by the Conservative Party for applications to be processed on a "far away island".

 4. The report also considers the EU element of a three-pronged proposal made by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This would involve setting up centres within the EU to process asylum applications on an EU basis. It envisages that eventually the EU would set up its own asylum processing service and appeals board.

5. The European Commission is planning to produce a further Communication in response to these proposals in June.

Further information from:

Tony Rawsthorne
Clerk to the Committee, on 020 7219 6612 ( [email protected])

Requests for reports or interviews with Baroness Harris of Richmond from:

Jillian Bailey
Press and Publicity Officer (Committees), on 020 7219 8659

[ENDS]