Documents considered by the Committee on 27 April 2011 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents


4   EU Readmission Agreements

(32544)

7044/11

+ ADDs 1-4

COM(11) 76

Commission Communication: Evaluation of EU Readmission Agreements

Legal base
Document originated23 February 2011
Deposited in Parliament28 February 2011
DepartmentHome Office
Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 6 April 2011
Previous Committee ReportHC 428-xxi (2010-11), chapter 5 (23 March 2011)
Committee's assessmentLegally and politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested

Background and previous scrutiny

4.1  EU Readmission Agreements are intended to play an important role in tackling illegal immigration by establishing a framework, based on reciprocal obligations, for the return of illegal immigrants. The EU has concluded Readmission Agreements with 13 countries[22] and has a mandate to negotiate agreements with Morocco, Turkey, Cape Verde, China and Algeria. The UK's opt-in applies to EU Readmission Agreements and, so far, the UK has chosen to opt into all EU negotiating mandates and Agreements. However, the Minister for Immigration (Damian Green) recently informed us that the Government had decided not to opt into a new negotiating mandate proposed by the Commission for an EU Readmission Agreement with Belarus.[23]

4.2  The Communication makes 15 Recommendations for the EU's future readmission policy based on the Commission's evaluation of the thirteen EU Readmission Agreements already in force and the five sets of negotiations which have not yet concluded. The content of the Communication, and the Government's response, are summarised in our Twenty-third Report. We thought that the Government appeared to have considerable reservations about many of the Commission's Recommendations and sought further information from the Minister.

The Minister's letter of 6 April 2011

4.3  We asked the Minister to tell us:

  • whether the Government considers that EU Readmission Agreements provide "added value" and, if so, how; and
  • whether the UK relies exclusively on EU Agreements, where in force, to return illegal immigrants or continues to use bilateral arrangements; and, if the latter, its reasons for doing so.

4.4  On the first point, the Minister says:

"To date, EU Readmission Agreements have not led to increased removals for the UK as the agreements have been with countries with which we already had effective returns arrangements. However, Readmission Agreements have had other benefits in terms of strengthening our bilateral relationships with other countries, including on practical cooperation efforts combating illegal immigration."

4.5  On the second point, he confirms that the UK's return processes "are consistent and compatible with the terms of each of the returns agreements in which the UK is a participant. In some cases, we conduct returns using other arrangements where migrants arrived in the UK pre-EU Readmission Agreement implementation and fall to be handled outside the Agreements."

4.6  We noted the paucity of reliable and comparable data available to assess the impact of EU Readmission Agreements, especially in terms of the actual number of returns effected, and the Government's reluctance to increase the supply of statistical data to Eurostat because it considered that the cost and workload were not justified for an "end product of limited value". We therefore asked the Minister what alternative methodology he contemplated to measure the real impact and effectiveness of EU Readmission Agreements.

4.7  The Minister explains that different Member States have different definitions for recording returns and that this would limit the value of any harmonised EU data. He continues:

"An alternative approach could be to analyse the flow of illegal migration into the EU from countries with whom the EU has a Readmission Agreement, since those Agreements entered into force. Of course, such an evaluation could only include those people discovered to be illegal rather than the total number including those as yet undiscovered. Another alternative might be to provide some form of qualitative analysis in terms of obstacles identified at Joint Readmission Committee meetings in readmitting people to countries with whom the EU has an Agreement."

4.8  The Minister told us that the Government opposed the inclusion of a human rights suspension clause in EU Readmission Agreements. We asked him to explain the reasons why, given that the threshold for triggering a suspension of the Agreement ("a persistent and serious risk of violation of human rights of readmitted persons") appeared to be high and the impact on returns from the UK correspondingly low.

4.9  The Minister says:

"We are clear that EU Readmission Agreements are purely administrative tools for conducting returns. All Human Rights considerations are carefully considered on an individual case basis elsewhere in the immigration decision making process by UK Border Agency case owners and the UK domestic courts. To put in a general suspension clause on human rights would take away UK discretion to decide whether an immigration return will violate an individual returnee's fundamental rights which is at the heart of UK immigration returns policy."

Conclusion

4.10  We thank the Minister for his prompt response. The Minister tells us that the UK's return processes are "consistent and compatible" with the terms of the EU Readmission Agreements in which the UK participates. However, our question was intended to establish whether the Government accepts Recommendation 2 in the Commission Communication which states that Member States must apply EU Readmission Agreements "for all their returns".[24] We ask the Minister to tell us whether the Government accepts the Commission's assertion that it is legally bound to apply the readmission procedures set out in EU Readmission Agreements and that it may not rely on bilateral arrangements.

4.11  We note the reasons given for opposing the inclusion of a human rights suspension clause in EU Readmission Agreements. We understand the Government's concern to ensure that a decision to return an illegal immigrant to a third country should be based on an individual assessment of the risk that his or her fundamental rights might be violated. However, the clause contemplated by the Commission is intended to allay concerns about the operation of EU Readmission Agreements with countries with a poor human rights record and would allow for a "temporary suspension of the agreement in the event of persistent and serious risk of violation of human rights of readmitted persons."[25] This is consistent with the principle of non-refoulement and, as we stated previously, the threshold for triggering the use of the clause appears to be high. We therefore doubt whether the inclusion of such a clause would, in practice, fetter the Government's discretion in the manner indicated by the Minister.

4.12  Finally, we noted in our last Report that the Government considered the Commission's proposal for a pilot project to monitor the treatment of those returned pursuant to an EU Readmission Agreement to be "impractical and inappropriate". We also noted that the principle of monitoring returns has already been established at EU level, by virtue of an EU Directive on Returns, adopted without the UK's participation in 2008, which requires participating Member States to establish an "effective forced-return monitoring system".[26] We therefore asked the Minister whether it would not be anomalous for the EU to establish a mechanism to monitor returns effected under the Directive, but not those effected pursuant to EU Readmission Agreements, when the consequences for the individuals concerned would likely be the same. We would be grateful for the Minister's view.

4.13  Pending the Minister's reply, the Communication remains under scrutiny.





22   These are Russia, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Macau, Ukraine, Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Moldova, Georgia and Pakistan.  Back

23   The Minister's letter of 28 March 2011.  Back

24   See para 2.2 on p. 4 of the Communication.  Back

25   See Recommendation 12 on p. 13 of the Commission's Communication.  Back

26   Directive 2008/115/EC of 16 December 2008, OJ L 348, 24.12.2008, p. 98, which establishes common rules and procedures for Member States to return illegally staying third country nationals.  Back


 
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