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EU: Summit Misses Opportunity on Migration

European Leaders Neglect Rights, Press Border Enforcement

(Brussels) - The European Council summit that concluded on June 24, 2011, made no significant progress in addressing serious deficiencies in EU asylum and migration policies, Human Rights Watch said today.

European leaders made no commitments to reform unfair aspects of EU asylum policy, offer resettlement to refugees from North Africa, or intensify efforts to prevent deaths of boat migrants in the Mediterranean, Human Rights Watch said. Instead discussions focused almost entirely on border enforcement and migration management.

"Expectations were low but it's disappointing to see European leaders sticking to the same ‘keep them out' paradigm," said Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. "There's a big divide between the soaring rhetoric on the Arab spring and the realities on the ground in Europe."

In its conclusions, the European Council emphasized the need for effective management of external borders and endorsed a proposal to allow temporary reinstatement of internal border controls in the Schengen area. It stressed the need for partnerships with southern and eastern neighbors to "address the root causes of migration at a structural level."

The lack of clarity about how member states would uphold freedom of movement and the right to asylum while imposing border controls raises concerns about border guards resorting to ethnic profiling to try to identify people who are not  European citizens, Human Rights Watch said.

The Council endorsed European Commission proposals to revise several parts of the common asylum system, including the Reception Directive, which covers assistance to asylum seekers, and the Procedures Directive, which deals with asylum procedures, and reaffirmed its commitment to create a common system by 2012.

Some of the proposed amendments appear designed to reach consensus by lowering standards with respect to detention, access to social assistance and health care, and fast-track asylum procedures, Human Rights Watch said.

European leaders also failed to take up concerns about the Dublin II regulation, which requires asylum claims to be heard in the first EU state a migrant reaches, Human Rights Watch said. This places a disproportionate burden on states at the EU's external borders, including Greece, which has a broken asylum system and abusive detention conditions.

"The Council talks about the common asylum system, but doesn't seem willing to make the difficult decisions to achieve it," Sunderland said. "Without Dublin reform, and greater assistance for Greece to ensure its migration and asylum system meets international standards, a common asylum system will be little more than a pipe-dream." 

The Council also failed to heed European Commissioner Cecilia Malmström's call for greater "solidarity in action" with respect to those fleeing violence in Libya. It made no commitments to increase refugee resettlement from North Africa - fewer than 1,000 people so far - or to intensify efforts to prevent deaths in the Mediterranean.

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