Documents considered by the Committee on 8 February 2017 Contents

13The resumption of transfers of asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin rules

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights

Document details

Commission Recommendation of 8.12.2016 addressed to the Member States on the resumption of transfers to Greece under Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013

Legal base

Article 292 TFEU


Home Office

Document Number

(38382), 15507/16, C(16) 8525

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

13.1Under the EU’s “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.118 This has placed a heavy burden on 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—who are responsible for identifying, registering and processing claims for asylum, and integrating those who have a valid claim for international protection. Many of those arriving in Greece before March 2016 (when borders with neighbouring Western Balkans were effectively sealed) took advantage of the Schengen area’s open borders to seek asylum in other Member States. These asylum seekers cannot be returned to Greece because transfers under the Dublin rules have been suspended since 2011 on the basis of court rulings establishing that there were systemic deficiencies in Greece’s asylum system.119

13.2The Commission believes that the resumption of Dublin transfers to Greece is necessary both to discourage large-scale secondary movements within the EU and to restore a degree of certainty and predictability to the EU’s asylum, migration and border management policies. At the same time, it recognises that Greece has faced immense challenges in managing exceptionally large inflows of irregular migrants. Although there has been a significant reduction in numbers since the EU and Turkey reached a deal in March 2016 to prevent irregular migration across the Aegean, the latest estimates indicate that there are still around 62,000 irregular migrants in Greece.

13.3Since the beginning of 2016, the Commission has adopted three Recommendations identifying deficiencies in Greece’s asylum system and the improvements needed to allow a resumption of Dublin transfers. These Recommendations are non-binding. Their purpose is to provide regular reports on the progress made by Greece with a view to assisting Member States in deciding whether or not to return asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin rules. The Commission makes clear that this is a decision to be taken exclusively by each Member State and is subject to review by the courts.

13.4In its fourth Recommendation, the Commission recognises that Greece has made “significant progress” in establishing the “essential institutional and legal structures for a properly functioning asylum system” but says that shortcomings remain, particularly in ensuring adequate reception conditions, the prompt lodging and processing of asylum applications and the proper treatment of vulnerable asylum seekers. Whilst the “ultimate goal” remains the full resumption of Dublin transfers to Greece, the Commission recognises that to do so now would place an unsustainable burden on Greece. It recommends instead a gradual resumption of Dublin transfers, each based on individual assurances given by Greece that an applicant’s claim for asylum will be dealt with promptly and that EU asylum laws on the reception and treatment of asylum seekers will be respected in each case. Given the still “precarious” treatment of unaccompanied minors, the Commission says that vulnerable asylum applicants should not be transferred to Greece for the time being. The Commission envisages that Dublin transfers would apply only to asylum applicants who entered Greece irregularly from 15 March 2017 onwards or for whom Greece is responsible from that date on the basis of other Dublin criteria, such as family ties. It calls on the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) to deploy a team of experts in Greece to monitor the treatment of individuals transferred under the Dublin rules and ensure that the individual assurances given before transfer are applied in practice.

13.5The Immigration Minister (Mr Robert Goodwill) welcomes the Commission’s assessment that sufficient progress has been made to allow the resumption of some Dublin transfers to Greece from mid-March, “subject to various conditions being met”, and supports the measures set out in the Commission Recommendation. He nevertheless remains cautious, noting:

“At this point it is not possible to speculate whether and to what extent transfers will be possible in practice, as this will depend entirely on the Greek authorities being in a position to deliver the necessary improvements and provide the stated assurances when requested to do so by other Member States.”120

13.6He reminds us in now familiar terms of the Government’s position on the outcome of last June’s referendum on UK membership of the EU:

“Until exit negotiations are concluded, the UK remains a full member of the European Union and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force. During this period the Government will continue to negotiate, implement and apply EU legislation. The outcome of these negotiations will determine what arrangements apply in relation to EU legislation in future once the UK has left the EU.”

13.7Deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are well-documented, with the UN Refugee Agency (UNCHR) reporting in early February that Reception and Identification Centres on the Aegean islands continue to face serious challenges with capacity and shelter allocation for those already present there, regardless of any new arrivals. UNHCR has made clear that it will continue to press for “improved reception conditions and establishment of additional and suitable space on the islands, accelerated transfers, speedy registration and processing of asylum claims, along with regular information provision and sufficient presence of security”.121

13.8Whilst the progress made by Greece in the last year is welcome, it is disappointing that neither the Commission nor the Minister makes any reference to the views of international organisations (such as UNHCR or the International Organisation for Migration) or non-governmental organisations operating on the ground in Greece on the proposed gradual resumption of Dublin transfers from mid-March onwards.

13.9We note that the Minister is unwilling to speculate on the likelihood that the UK will be in a position to resume Dublin transfers to Greece from mid-March. We consider his caution to be entirely justified. It strikes us as premature for the Commission to announce a phased resumption of Dublin transfers based on speculative improvements which may or may not be in place by 15 March. We ask the Minister for an assurance that the Government will not reinstate Dublin transfers to Greece without first consulting the organisations and agencies operating on the ground and making its own fully informed assessment of the ability and capacity of the Greek authorities to comply fully with any individual assurances given. We would expect this assessment to be made public.

13.10We consider UK participation in the proposed EASO monitoring and reporting mechanism to be an essential pre-requisite for any decision reinstating Dublin transfers from the UK to Greece. We ask the Minister whether he agrees. We would also welcome further details on how these multinational teams would work, how soon they are likely to be established, and to whom they would report. How feasible is it likely to be in practice for these teams to monitor the situation of each asylum applicant returned to Greece and ensure that they are treated in accordance with the assurances given?

13.11Pending the Minister’s reply, the Commission Recommendation remains under scrutiny. We draw this chapter to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Full details of the documents

Commission Recommendation of 8.12.2016 addressed to the Member States on the resumption of transfers to Greece under Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013: (38382), 15507/16, C(16) 8525.

The Commission Recommendation

13.12The Commission considers that there is “a good prospect for a fully functioning asylum system being put in place in the near future” and highlights areas in which Greece has made progress, including:

13.13Despite these improvements, the Commission draws attention to the following shortcomings:

13.14The Commission calls on Greece to implement all the measures set out in its latest Recommendation which it considers essential to allow a resumption of Dublin transfers. They include:

13.15The Commission makes clear that the “substantial funding” provided to Greece from the EU budget (directly or through support for EU agencies and international organisations operating in Greece) must be “fully used” to meet “urgent needs”, particularly as regards reception capacity, accommodation and services for the most vulnerable. The Commission also makes clear that other Member States should play their part by responding promptly to calls from the European Asylum Support Office for national experts to assist the Greek authorities and by accelerating the implementation of their relocation commitments.

13.16The Commission sets out the conditions under which it envisages that a partial resumption of Dublin transfers could take place with effect from 15 March 2017. The key elements are:

13.17The Commission invites Greece to provide a report on its implementation of the Recommendation (issued on 8 December 2016) by mid-February, and to report every two months thereafter.

The Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum of 27 January 2017

13.18The Minister notes that the migration crisis “continues to place real pressure on the Greek asylum and migration system”. He continues:

“On the recommendation that Dublin transfers may be feasible from 17 March 2017, we recall that in its earlier reports the Commission noted that responsibility for deciding on the legality of transfer in individual cases lies exclusively with Member States’ authorities under the control of the courts (including preliminary references to the European Court of Justice). We also note that the concept of seeking assurances before a Dublin transfer was established in particular circumstances by the European Court of Human Rights in the case Tarakhel vs Switzerland.123

13.19The Minister welcomes the Commission’s assessment that sufficient progress has been made to allow some transfers to take place from mid-March, “subject to various conditions being met”, but adds:

“At this point it is not possible to speculate whether and to what extent transfers will be possible in practice, as this will depend entirely on the Greek authorities being in a position to deliver the necessary improvements and provide the stated assurances when requested to do so by other Member States.”124

13.20The Minister recognises that the ability of the Greek authorities to provide the necessary assurances in individual cases “will depend on further progress being made to its asylum system” by mid-March. He continues:

“With that in mind, we support the Commission’s recommendations to Greece to ensure that its reception facilities are sufficient, meet the necessary standards and include an appropriate number of open reception facilities that are capable of accommodating all applicants for international protection. We agree that the facilities should at least meet the standards required in the Reception Conditions Directive, that applicants receive the necessary health care and that additional places for unaccompanied minors are available. We support the recommendations that special procedural and reception needs of applicants are identified so that the necessary support can be provided. We also support the recommendation that a number of temporary facilities are kept available or can be made available at short notice to deal with unexpected arrivals. On the issue of Regional Asylum Offices, we note that there appears to be a discrepancy between the number of offices reported as operational on 22 November by Greece (seven) compared to the number in the previous report (eight). It may be the case that priorities have changed, but we mention this simply to note that information that is accurate at the time of one report may have altered by the next not only in terms of an increased number of offices, but also a reduction.

“We support the Commission’s recommendation that the Greek authorities continue their efforts to ensure that an effective remedy is available to all applicants by ensuring the full functioning of the new Appeals Authority by establishing the planned 20 Appeals Committees by the end of February 2017. We also support the recommendations regarding: the provision of adequate human resources for the Appeals Authority and the Committees; the clearance of all pending requests for judicial review as soon as possible; the increase in the number of appeal decisions per Committee; and sufficient training for Committee members.”125

13.21The Minister notes the “considerable amount of funding” allocated to Greece to help bring its asylum service up to EU standards:

“We fully support the Commission calls on Greece to ensure that the substantial EU funding is used in the most efficient and effective manner and without further delay. We will continue to monitor the situation and review any new reports provided by Greece and the Commission as the proposed date from which a resumption of transfers may be possible approaches.”126

Previous Committee Reports

None on this document, but see our earlier Reports on the first Commission Recommendation: Thirty-second Report HC 342-xxxi (2015–16), chapter 11 (4 May 2016); and Twenty-sixth Report HC 342-xxv (2015–16), chapter 6 (16 March 2016).

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

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

120 See para 27 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

121 See the Weekly Report dated 3 February 2017 produced by UNHCR’s Europe Bureau.

122 The figures for December 2016 were 16,295 registered migrants for 8,200 places.

123 See para 26 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

124 See para 27 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

125 See paras 28–9 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

126 See para 30 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

10 February 2017