Documents considered by the Committee on 4 May 2016 Contents

11The resumption of transfers of asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin rules

Committee’s assessment

Legally and politically important

Committee’s decision

Cleared from scrutiny; drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights

Document details

Commission Recommendation addressed to Greece on the resumption of transfers under the Dublin III Regulation

Legal base

Article 292 TFEU


Home Office

Document Numbers

(37527), 6019/16, C(16) 871

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

11.1Under the so-called “Dublin rules”, the Member State through which an asylum seeker first enters the EU is generally responsible for examining an asylum application unless a close connection can be established with another Member State based on family ties or a previously issued residence permit or visa.45 In its Communication, A European Agenda on Migration, published in May 2015, the Commission suggested that the operation of the Dublin rules was perceived as being “fundamentally unfair”. This is because, if properly applied, responsibility for identifying, registering and processing claims for asylum, and integrating those who have a valid claim for international protection, rests with a small number of exposed frontline Member States, notably Greece and Italy—the main entry points to the EU during the current migration and refugee crisis.

11.2Since 2011, Member States have been unable to return asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin rules, following rulings by the (Strasbourg) European Court of Human Rights (part of the Council of Europe machinery) in M.S.S. vs. Belgium and Greece and by the (Luxembourg) Court of Justice of the European Union in N.S. v. UK that there were systemic deficiencies in Greece’s asylum system.46 Greece has developed an Action Plan to reform its asylum system and received operational support through the EU’s European Asylum Support Office as well as substantial EU funding to address the main shortcomings. The purpose of the Commission Recommendation is to identify further action that Greece needs to take to allow a resumption of Dublin transfers.

11.3The Immigration Minister (James Brokenshire) expressed support for measures that would enable Member States to return asylum seekers to Greece. He told us that the suspension of Dublin transfers to Greece had affected the operation of the Dublin rules throughout the EU and “undermined the important principle that an asylum seeker must lodge a claim in the first safe country entered”.47 As the decision to reinstate Dublin transfers rests with each Member State, subject to judicial oversight, we asked the Minister to provide his assessment of the current situation in Greece and to provide a clear indication of the Government’s view on the appropriateness of reinstating transfers in the near future.

11.4We welcome the “very significant improvements” that have been made since 2011 to establish a functioning and effective asylum system in Greece but note that “there is still significant work to be done”. Since writing to us, the Minister has announced a substantial increase in the resources being provided by the UK to help Greece administer and process migrants and refugees, with a particular focus on implementing the Agreement reached with Turkey in March to end irregular migration to the EU.48

11.5The information provided by the Minister does not alter our earlier assessment that there appears to be little immediate prospect of reinstating the transfer of asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin rules. We note that a number of Member States have questioned the value and effectiveness of the Dublin rules, as well as the principles underpinning them. The Commission is expected to propose a reform of the Dublin system shortly which we intend to scrutinise closely. It seems unlikely that much headway can be made on the resumption of Dublin transfers while the pressures on the Greek asylum system remain intense and various reform options are on the table.

11.6We are content to clear the Commission Recommendation from scrutiny, but expect the Minister to notify us promptly of any change in the Government’s position on reinstating Dublin transfers to Greece. We draw this chapter to the attention of the attention of the Home Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Full details of the documents

Commission Recommendation of 10.02.2016 addressed to the Hellenic Republic on the urgent measures to be taken by Greece in view of the resumption of transfers under Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013: (37527), 6019/16, C(16) 871.


11.7The Dublin rules assign responsibility for examining an application for asylum to a single Member State. Their purpose is to prevent “asylum shopping” by individuals who, once they reach the EU, are able to move around the Schengen free movement area to reach their preferred Member State of destination.

11.8The effective operation of the Dublin rules depends on all Member States applying the EU’s common European asylum system—a range of measures designed to ensure that asylum standards and reception conditions are broadly comparable throughout the EU, and that procedures for examining claims and determining who qualifies for protection will produce the same outcome. The reality is somewhat different. Systemic deficiencies in Greece’s asylum system are compounded by shortcomings in the implementation of various EU asylum measures in 18 other Member States which have led the Commission to bring infringement proceedings.49 The high incidence of secondary movements by asylum seekers within the EU also suggests a lack of confidence that asylum seekers will receive equal consideration wherever their claims for protection are submitted.

11.9The German Chancellor (Angela Merkel) has described the Dublin rules as “obsolete”. In April, the Commission published a Communication setting out options for reforming the Dublin system so that it operates as an instrument for the “sustainable sharing of responsibility for asylum applicants across the EU”.50

11.10In our earlier Report on the Commission Recommendation, we suggested that there was little immediate prospect of reinstating Dublin transfers to Greece, given the number of outstanding infringement proceedings against Greece for failing to comply with EU asylum laws, as well as the recent assessment of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers that further efforts were needed to ensure the proper treatment of unaccompanied child asylum seekers and the provision of adequate reception facilities.

11.11We drew the Minister’s attention to the observations published by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in December 2014 (before the huge surge in arrivals in Greece during 2015 and the early months of 2016) which, whilst acknowledging that significant improvements had been made, concluded that Governments should continue to refrain from returning asylum seekers to Greece. UNHCR highlighted, in particular, significant shortcomings in asylum procedures, inadequacies in reception facilities, scarce accommodation and insufficient services to meet the needs of asylum-seekers, especially the most vulnerable.51 We reiterated the request we made last November for the Minister to provide his assessment of the situation in Greece and for a clear indication of the Government’s view on the appropriateness of reinstating Dublin transfers in the near future.52

The Minister’s letter of 13 April 2016

11.12The Minister sets out the Government’s view on the progress made by the Greek authorities in improving their asylum system and how this will affect the likelihood of reinstating Dublin transfers from the UK to Greece:

“The UK welcomes the increasing attention being given to ensuring Greece has a functioning, effective asylum system. Very significant improvements have been made since 2011, in part as a result of UK assistance. There is now a functioning asylum determination and appeals process that bears comparison with other EU countries. However the Government accepts that challenges remain in terms of processing capacity and reception arrangements, in particular given the ongoing efforts to develop inadmissibility and returns processes for new arrivals from Turkey.

“It is clear that improvements are being made to both Greece’s response to the migration crisis and its asylum system more generally. Greece committed to establishing five hotspots in its roadmap. The European Commission first report on relocation and resettlement dated 16th of March 2016 stated that four are currently operational, with one yet to be finalised on Kos. The same European Commission report, (which was the subject of my Explanatory Memorandum of 7th April), describes processes in the hotspots as efficient and effective with regards to registration of arrivals and improvements in IT systems are underway in order to cope with increased transmission of fingerprints.”53

11.13The Minister recognises, however, that “there is still significant work to be done”:

“Systematic checks against security databases are not fully established and further efforts are required to combat document fraud. The European Commission report on relocation and resettlement further stated that the Greek Asylum Service and EASO [European Asylum Support Office] were present on only three islands. Greece is improving its accommodation system through involvement of the military and the UNHCR and with financial support from the EU. EASO is in the process of expanding its operations to improve registration capacity. Greece has recently increased readmissions to Turkey but detention capacity remains limited.”

11.14He makes clear that the immediate priority for the UK is to assist Greece in creating an effective system for processing new arrivals to facilitate returns under the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement, but adds:

“We have not lost sight of the need to resume Dublin returns when we and other Member States are satisfied it is safe and reasonable to do so and would expect to revisit this issue once it is clear that arrivals from Turkey have stabilised and the Greek asylum system is functioning well alongside the new returns arrangements.”

11.15The Minister describes the financial and human resources which the UK is providing to Greece:

“Greece is the largest recipient (£20m) of the £65m assistance the UK is providing in Europe for life saving aid to migrants and refugees through partners such as the UNCHR, IOM and other NGOs.

“We are funding an Assisted Voluntary Returns (AVR) programme (£2m over 2 years 2014–2016) and asylum programmes (totalling £600k over 3 years) in Greece. Working with the IOM, the AVRR programme has returned over 1500 illegal economic migrants to their country of origin.

“The UK plays a full part in EU asylum management, deploying asylum experts in all of EASO’s major support operations to date: Greece, Italy, Bulgaria and Cyprus. Over the last three years the UK has deployed staff for more than 20 EASO missions totalling over 1,000 days.

“Risk and Liaison Overseas Network (RALON) Greece and the NCA [National Crime Agency] are working closely with the Greek authorities on tackling Organised Immigration Crime (OIC) in cross border movement. NCA are keen to provide more support, information-sharing and capacity-building.”

11.16The Minister reiterates the Government’s opposition to the EU’s relocation policy, adding:

“we view this to be the wrong response to the migration crisis. Progress on relocation has been very slow with only around 1100 individuals having been relocated to date, out of the 160,000 commitment. Swift and effective implementation of hotspots remains a UK priority; in our view the hotspots should contribute to better management of the EU’s external border with more focus being given to the rapid return of those without a legitimate asylum claim. We believe it is important that hotspots do not focus exclusively on facilitating relocation but fulfil this wider border security objective. We welcome the progress made in Greece over the past few months, including the development of a new inadmissibility process for new arrivals from Turkey. We will continue to contribute expertise and financial support both bi-laterally and through EU agencies such as the European Asylum Support Office to ensure that the Greek border and asylum systems continue to develop to the meet the considerable challenges faced.”

11.17He concludes that the Government will continue to monitor the progress being made in Greece through the monthly reporting mechanism established by the Commission and says he will update us “as and when the situation in Greece changes”.

Previous Committee Reports

Twenty-sixth Report HC 342-xxv (2015–16), chapter 6 (16 March 2016).

45 The latest version of the Dublin Regulation—Dublin III—was adopted in June 2013.

46 Summary of the judgment in M.S.S v Belgium and Greece. Judgment in N.S. v UK. See also the fact sheet on Dublin cases produced by the European Court of Human Rights.

47 See para 14 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

48 See the Written Ministerial Statement of 21 April 2016 by the Immigration Minister (James Brokenshire).

49 See the Commission’s press release dated 23 September 2015 and its press release of 10 December 2015.

50 See p.4 of the Commission Communication, Towards a reform of the Common European Asylum System and enhancing legal avenues to Europe.

51 See UNHCR observations on the current situation of asylum in Greece, December 2014.

52 See our Ninth Report HC 342-ix (2015–16), chapter 8 (18 November 2015) and our Fifteenth Report HC 342-xiv (2015–16), chapter 8 (16 December 2015).

53 See our Thirtieth Report HC 342-xxix (2015–16), chapter 11 (27 April 2016).

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

10 May 2016