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EP calls for more humane conditions for asylum seekers

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EP calls for more humane conditions for asylum seekersFollowing the adoption of a resolution by the Plenary last week calling for more intra-EU solidarity with Member states under pressure with asylum applications, this morning the Civil Liberties Committee endorsed a negotiating legislative text including provisions to improve the treatment of asylum seekers through limitations on grounds for detention, better detention conditions, swifter access to the labour market and an early assessment of possible medical or psychological needs.

The draft legislation lays down a set of standards for the reception and treatment of asylum seekers, concerning in particular detention grounds, detention conditions, detention of vulnerable persons, access to the labour market and identification of special needs. The draft law, which has been agreed provisionally with the Council, modifies the current directive dating from 2003.

Asylum seekers should have access to a member state’s labour market no later than nine months after filing an application for international protection.

Currently, an asylum seeker can access the national labour market one year after lodging an application. Although, as the Commission pointed out in its 2008 report on the application of the current directive, “additional limitations imposed on those asylum seekers who have already been granted access to the labour market, such as the necessity of a work permit, might considerably hinder such access in practice.”

Under the agreed text, an asylum seeker could only be detained for the following reasons:

to check his/her identity;

to verify the elements of his/her application for international protection; to decide on his/her right to enter the member state’s territory;

to protect national security and public order;

to prepare his/her return to his home country if the member state “can substantiate on the basis of objective criteria (…) that there are reasonable grounds to believe that he makes the application for international protection merely in order to delay or frustrate the enforcement of the return decision”;

in the context of a transfer to another member state, under the “Dublin II” regulation on responsibility for asylum seekers.

The 2003 directive does not include any detention grounds, thus leaving it open to member states’ interpretation.

As a general rule, detention should take place in specialised detention facilities. However, if an EU country cannot provide accommodation in one of these centres and is obliged to place the asylum seeker in a prison, he/she should be kept separately from ordinary prisoners and have access to open-air spaces.

Detained asylum seekers should also be provided with information explaining their rights and obligations in a language that they understand “or are reasonably supposed to understand.”

Under the agreed text, minors could only be detained as a last resort. It would be for the shortest period and all efforts should be made to release them and place them in more suitable centres. Unaccompanied minors would only be detained “in exceptional circumstances” and they could not be kept in prisons.

They should be provided with accommodation in centres with staff and facilities adapted to their needs. They should also be kept separately from adults.

Member States should assess whether an asylum seeker needs special attention, such as medical or psychological help. Under the agreed rules, such an assessment should take place “within a reasonable period of time” after an application is filed and EU countries should ensure that these special needs are properly addressed.

The draft directive was backed by 45 votes to 9, with 4 abstentions. Member states will now have to endorse the agreed text, which would then come back to Parliament. The final text is expected to be voted in plenary before the end of the year. Once adopted, EU countries will have two years to transpose the new rules into domestic law.

The reception conditions directive is one of the five acts forming the backbone of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS).

In a resolution adopted on 11 September Parliament is proposing that the Asylum System should also include a reallocation mechanism of asylum seekers and a “European Distribution Key” to distribute asylum seekers according to criteria such as size of national territory and integration possibilities.

The above resolution will be the parting point for a public dialogue with MEPs on Monday 24th organised by the European Parliament information office in Valletta.

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