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EU: Action, not words needed at JHA to end suffering of thousands

14th September 2015, 17:22:36 UTC

As European Union (EU) Home Affairs ministers meet in Brussels to discuss an EU response to the global refugee crisis, Amnesty International is demanding an overhaul of the EU’s asylum system to ensure safe passage to the EU for people in need of protection and to end the suffering of those who do eventually make it to the Union. Ministers will discuss a raft of proposals released by the European Commission on 9 September, which dangerously miss the mark when it comes to protecting vulnerable people at the borders and within the EU and to solving the humanitarian crisis.

Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland said:

“Once again European political representatives are taking centrestage talking about the need to address the refugee crisis. But the real European crisis is one of leadership and Europe´s failure to radically reform its collapsing asylum system, with dire consequences for vulnerable people who need safety and sanctuary. There has been enough talk. Now is time for real action. The world is watching.”

The failure of EU countries to accept that the world refugee crisis would increase the numbers of arrivals to Europe has become increasingly visible and alarming. Ignoring the reasons pushing people to the EU such as conflict and human rights violations, EU leaders have focused on blocking their entry with abusive border control measures, as well as through practices or legislation which effectively deny them the right to seek asylum. 

This, coupled with the absence of safe and legal routes to Europe, has meant an increase in refugees embarking on dangerous journeys. Both EU and member state failures have resulted in inhumane reception conditions and a lack of streamlined asylum procedures for those who arrive at frontline member states. Amnesty International has put forward a detailed and concrete set of proposals to ensure that people in need of international protection can reach and live in Europe safely and with dignity. 

Dangerous journeys to Europe

This year alone almost 2800 people have lost their lives trying to reach safety and sanctuary in Europe. Some who reach the EU’s external borders are pushed-back. 

More than 381,000 people did reach the EU in the first eight months of 2015 alone, with over 258,000 arriving on the Greek islands. With 92% of those who arrived in Greece coming from war-torn Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Even having escaped the horrors of war, and surviving dangerous journeys, their hardships are far from over when they reach the EU. 

Amnesty International has documented appalling reception conditions in Greece, and people being detained without food or water in Hungary. These conditions and the lack of long-term prospects in these countries are pushing people to embark on further, and often clandestine and dangerous, routes within Europe.

“The increased refugee flow to Europe is the inevitable result of the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. European leaders´ focus on keeping people out is only exacerbating people´s suffering,” said Colm O’Gorman. “Despite the pleas of thousands of people across Europe that their leaders take action, the proposals on the table for Monday´s so-called emergency meeting fall dangerously short of addressing gaps and ensuring protection and dignity for those in need.”

Safe and legal routes to Europe

The Commission´s proposals that EU ministers will discuss on Monday make no mention of alternative safe and legal routes, such as an increase in resettlement places and humanitarian admissions, family reunification and humanitarian visas. These are necessary, however, to provide safe passage to Europe, reducing the number of refugees taking dangerous journeys. It would also reduce the pressure on frontline member states by ensuring a fairer distribution of refugees across the EU.

Amnesty International estimates that around 1.38 million resettlement places for the most vulnerable refugees around the word will be needed over the next two years, and is calling on the EU countries to offer at least 300,000 over this period, either through national programmes or a mandatory programme to be set up by the EU.


The Commission proposal focuses on the relocation of asylum seekers within the EU as a key element of the overall solution. Though relocation would temporarily alleviate pressure from frontline member states who are in an emergency situation, it would need to be implemented swiftly. Worryingly, the proposal on the table excludes consent, raising serious questions about potential detention and coercive means to force people to move to member states where they may have no family or financial support.

Ministers will discuss an emergency relocation proposal for 120,000 asylum-seekers, on top of the 40,000 figure that the Commission also proposed in May which member states failed to fully meet. 

However the Commission proposal excludes consent, raising serious questions about potential detention and coercive means to force people to move to member states where they may have no family or financial support.

“Putting relocation back on the agenda, if applied fairly, should help ease the pressure on frontline member states and lift people out of squalid reception conditions. But the current proposals are deeply concerning,” said Colm O’Gorman. “Relocation alone is not a sustainable solution to helping asylum-seekers and refugees. The Commission and member states are ignoring the fact that the gravity of the situation and the plight of refugees and asylum-seekers in the countries of first arrival can be prevented in the first place with access to the wider EU through safe and legal routes.”

Freedom of movement for refugees

The Commission’s proposals also misses the opportunity to structurally address the issue of irregular movement of refugees within the EU. Long-term pressure on countries of arrival would be far better reduced by allowing free movement for refugees within the EU. Freedom of movement would also facilitate family reunifications, and increase prospects for long term integration.  

“Safe Countries of Origin List” 

Ministers will also discuss a proposal for a ‘Safe Countries of Origin’ list. The application of such a list is deeply alarming as it fundamentally undermines asylum seekers’ access to a fair and efficient asylum process. Refugee status determination is based on people’s individual circumstances, which means no country of origin can be deemed ‘safe’ as such. The application of a safe country of origin notion risks precluding whole groups of people in need of international protection from obtaining refugee status, and ultimately result in refoulement.

“Ministers must abandon once and for all the Fortress Europe approach. Desperate people will keep coming and a coordinated emergency response coupled with an urgent overhaul of the EU’s approach to asylum can no longer wait,” said Colm O’Gorman.