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The European Union’s proposal on asylum procedures violates international human rights and refugee law and should be withdrawn, a group of leading nongovernmental organizations said today. In an unprecedented move, refugee and human rights organizations across Europe are jointly calling on the European Union to scrap one of the key elements leading to the proposed Common European Asylum System.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) are among the organizations concerned that key provisions in the proposal violate E.U. member states’ international obligations. These provisions designate certain countries as “safe countries of origin” or “safe third countries,” and fail to guarantee all asylum seekers the right to remain in a country of asylum pending an appeal.

“We feel we have no option but to call on the E.U. to scrap this proposal on asylum procedures which has been shaped in reaction to populist pressures and fears whipped up about a non-existent flood of refugees into the E.U.,” said Daphné Bouteillet Paquet of Amnesty International. “We no longer regard this proposal as credible. It is in breach of the E.U.’s own commitments in the Charter of Fundamental Rights.”

The refugee and human rights organizations today released the text of a joint letter to the European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, Antonio Vitorino. The letter calls on him to withdraw the proposal for a “Council Directive on Minimum Standards on Procedures in Member States for Granting and Withdrawing Refugee Status”.

The issue is due to be discussed by E.U. justice and home affairs ministers at their meeting tomorrow as the May deadline looms for the conclusion of negotiations.

“We know negotiations are not yet finalised. But in the lead-up to the May deadline as set out by the Amsterdam Treaty, the gap between the proposals on the table and international law is actually growing rather than narrowing,” said María-Teresa Gil-Bazo of the European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE). “We regret that repeated recommendations from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and civil society organizations have been ignored by member states.”

The letter outlines the groups’ concerns that the Directive in its current form violates international human rights and refugee law. Key concerns include:

  • the use of the “safe countries of origin” concept, which provides fewer procedural safeguards to some asylum seekers based solely on their country of origin;

  • the use of the “safe third country” concept to shift responsibility for refugees to third countries, regardless of whether the applicants have meaningful links with such countries, and to prevent an examination of whether there are particular circumstances that make the destination country unsafe for the particular applicant;

  • the absence of an explicit right for all asylum seekers to remain in the asylum country pending a final decision on their cases, which could lead to the removal of applicants to countries where they may suffer torture or other human rights violations and in some cases amount to refoulement contrary to the 1951 Refugee Convention and other international human rights instruments.

The organizations that signed the letter to Commissioner Vitorino also condemned the fact that the Directive will leave critical issues to Member States’ discretion, including the detention of asylum seekers and the right to legal assistance.

“This proposal would deny some asylum seekers access to full and fair procedures, and it would transfer them to countries outside Europe,” said Ben Ward of Human Rights Watch. “We’re deeply concerned that the E.U. is trying to get other countries to shoulder its responsibilities.”

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