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Select Committee on European Scrutiny Seventh Report


9 Implementation of the Directive on reception standards for asylum seekers

(29216)

15802/07

COM(07) 745

Commission report on the application of Directive 2003/9/EC laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers

Legal base
Document originated26 November 2007
Deposited in Parliament30 November 2007
DepartmentHome Office
Basis of considerationEM of 14 December 2007
Previous Committee ReportNone
To be discussed in CouncilNo date fixed
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested

Background

9.1 The Council has adopted four Directives which set minimum standards, applicable equally in all Member States, as a first step towards establishing a common procedure and uniform status for everyone granted asylum. The purpose of the Reception Standards Directive[25] is to set minimum standards for the assistance asylum seekers are given while their applications are being considered. Member States may introduce or retain higher standards if they wish.

9.2 The following are example of the minimum standards set by the Directive:

  •    Article 8 requires the Member State to take appropriate action to maintain, as far as possible, family unity if the applicant is provided with housing by the Member State;

  •   Article 10 requires Member States to grant the children of asylum seekers access to the education system; and

  •   Article 15 requires Member States both to ensure that asylum seekers receive at least emergency health care and essential treatment for illness and to provide necessary medical or other assistance to applicants who have special needs.

9.3 Article 25 requires the Commission to report to the European Parliament and the Council by 6 August 2006 on the application of the Directive; and Article 26 requires Member States to transpose the Directive into their domestic law by 6 February 2005.

The Commission's report

9.4 The Commission made the report on 26 November 2007, over a year later than required by the Directive. The report contains no explanation of the delay.

9.5 The Commission concludes that the Directive has been transposed satisfactorily in the majority of Member States. It says that:

"Contrary to what was predicted following the adoption of the Directive, it appears that Member States have not lowered their previous standards of assistance to asylum seekers. However, the present report has clearly shown that the wide discretion allowed by the Directive in a number of areas, notably in regard to access to employment, health care, level and form of material reception conditions, free movement rights and needs of vulnerable persons, undermines the objective of creating a level playing field in the area of reception conditions."[26]

The Commission's criticisms of the UK and the Government's views on them

9.6 Commenting on the implementation of the Directive, the Commission says that:

"Minor difficulties were detected with regard to the application of the Directive in time. Some Member States whose procedures are divided into numerous stages do not apply the Directive, for example, to persons at the admissibility stage … Others [including the UK] only apply the Directive to applicants who have already registered or hold a particular ID card."[27]

9.7 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office (Meg Hillier) tells us that the UK applies the Directive to everyone who has made an application for asylum on or after 5 February 2005. Because of "the unclear wording" of the report, the Government is unsure what the Commission thinks the UK has done improperly.

9.8 The Commission's report notes that the provisions of the Directive apply to all types of premises for asylum seekers, including detention centres. It says, however, that:

"As many as seven Member States [including the UK] do not apply the Directive in detention centres." [28]

9.9 The Minister tells us that the Government is confident that the UK complies fully with the Directive's requirements in detention centres. It does not accept the Commission's assertion.

9.10 The Commission's report notes that Article 6 of the Directive requires Member States to give asylum seekers a document stating their name and status within three days of the day on which they make their application. The Commission says that many Member States do not comply with that deadline and that:

"Others [including the UK] have introduced a clear deadline in the legislation but do not comply with it in practice."[29]

9.11 The Minister tells us that the Government does not accept this claim and that the report offers no substantiation of it. If applicants seek asylum at an Asylum Clearing Unit or one of the major ports, they are issued with an Application Registration Card (ARC) on the day they claim asylum; and if the place where the claim is made is not able to issue an ARC, a Standard Acknowledgement Letter is issued.

9.12 The Commission says that :

"Certain deficiencies are noted regarding the possibility of appeals against certain negative decisions. While all Member States grant this possibility for detention decisions, some [including the UK] make no provision for appeals against decisions affecting individual freedom of movement …"[30]

9.13 The Minister draws our attention, however, to section 3.4.1 of the report, which does not list the UK as one of the Member States which restrict the freedom of movement of asylum seekers.

9.14 The Commission says that the UK has an undefined period for the detention of asylum seekers and suggests that this might not be consistent with Article 11 of the Directive, which sets rules about access to the labour market by asylum seekers.[31]

9.15 The Minister tells us that Article 11 permits access to the labour market if a decision at first instance has not been taken on an asylum application within 12 months. The Government is confident that there have been no cases where an asylum seeker has been detained for 12 months without a first instance decision on the application.

9.16 The Commission also includes the UK among the Member States which "deny detained minors access to education or make it impossible or very limited in practice".[32]

9.17 The Minister refutes this. She says:

"Detention is obviously a situation that precludes access to community-based education. Families with children may be detained at three removal (detention) centres. Yarl's Wood is the main centre. It provides formal, on-site education for all school-age children based on the national curriculum and delivered by qualified teachers. The remaining two centres (Dungavel and Tinsley House) do not normally hold families for more than 72 hours."

9.18 The Commission notes that Article 17 of the Directive requires Member States to identify the special needs of vulnerable asylum seekers. It says, however, that in some Member States (including the UK) there is no identification procedure.[33]

9.19 The Minister tells us that this is incorrect. Individuals are asked, as part of the UK's asylum screening process, whether they have any special needs. Asylum seekers who appear to the Borders and Immigration Agency to have a clear care need and an urgent need for services are referred to social services. The asylum support application also gives the applicant and dependants an opportunity to record any medical conditions.

9.20 The Minister says that:

"We are disappointed with the number of factual inaccuracies relating to the UK contained in this evaluation. We are concerned that it does not accurately describe how the provisions of the Directive have been operating in practice [and] whether the provisions have had the desired outcome. As such it does not provide a sound evidence base for considering how (if at all) the Reception Conditions Directive needs to be amended."

The Government will be raising its concerns with the Commission.

Conclusion

9.21 We welcome the Minister's frank and robust assessment of the Commission's report. Member States have agreed that any new proposals for legislation on a common European asylum system must be preceded by a thorough evaluation of the Directives which have already been adopted. We would expect the Commission to ensure, therefore, that this report on one of those Directives is factually accurate. Accordingly, we ask the Minister to tell us the Commission's response to her concerns about the accuracy of the references to the situation in the UK. We should also be grateful if she would obtain the Commission's explanation for its failure to produce the report by the date set by the Directive. We shall, therefore, keep the document under scrutiny pending the Minister's reply to our request for further information.





25   OJ No. L 31, 6.2.03, p.18. Back

26   Commission report, page 10, final paragraph. Back

27   Commission report, page 3, paragraph 4. Back

28   Ibid, page 3, penultimate paragraph. Back

29   Ibid, page 4, paragraph 7. Back

30   Ibid, page 5, paragraph 3. Back

31   Ibid, page 7, paragraph 5 and page 8, paragraph 5. Back

32   Ibid, page 8, final paragraph. Back

33   Ibid, page 9, paragraph 3. Back


 
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