Documents considered by the Committee on 15 March 2017 Contents

8The 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

Department

Home Office

Document Number

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

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

8.1Under 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.18 Since 2011, Member States have been unable to return asylum seekers who first entered the EU through Greece because of court rulings establishing that there are systemic deficiencies in Greece’s asylum system.19

8.2The 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.

8.3This is the fourth in a series of non-binding 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.

8.4In its latest Recommendation (issued in December) 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.

8.5The Immigration Minister (Mr Robert Goodwill) welcomed 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”, but struck a note of caution:

“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.”20

8.6We suggested that it was 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 and considered the Minister’s caution to be entirely justified. We noted that neither the Commission nor the Minister made any reference to the views of international organisations (such as the UN Refugee Agency—UNHCR—or the International Organisation for Migration) or non-governmental organisations operating on the ground in Greece. We sought an assurance that the Government would not reinstate Dublin transfers to Greece without first consulting these organisations 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 added that the assessment should be made public.

8.7We considered UK participation in the proposed EASO monitoring and reporting mechanism to be an essential pre-requisite to any decision reinstating Dublin transfers from the UK to Greece. We asked the Minister whether he agreed and requested further details on how these multinational teams would work, how soon they were likely to be established, and to whom they would report. We also asked how feasible it was likely to be in practice for these teams to monitor the situation of each asylum applicant returned to Greece and ensure that they were treated in accordance with the assurances given.

8.8In a prompt and helpful response, the Minister acknowledges the important role played by international and non-governmental organisations operating on the ground in Greece in informing any decision on the resumption of Dublin transfers. Whilst the Minister “remains cautious on any future plans” and cannot commit the Government to making any assessment public, he says that the Government will “fully consider the ability and capacity of the Greek authorities and the relevant jurisprudence”. He is unable to provide further details on the EASO monitoring and reporting mechanism envisaged by the Commission at this stage, but confirms that UK officials are considering whether the UK should participate.

8.9We welcome the Government’s engagement with the UNHCR and other organisations operating on the ground in Greece—we consider their input to be essential in informing any decision to recommence Dublin transfers to Greece, even on the limited scale envisaged by the Commission—as well as the Minister’s assurance that any decision taken by the Government will “fully consider the ability and capacity of the Greek authorities and the relevant jurisprudence”. We remain of the view that any decision to reinstate Dublin transfers from the UK to Greece should be based on a publicly accessible assessment so that the evidence informing the decision can be properly evaluated.

8.10Similarly, we reiterate our view that UK participation in the proposed EASO monitoring and reporting mechanism should be considered an essential pre-requisite to any decision to reinstate Dublin transfers from the UK to Greece. We agree with the Minister that UK officials must be effectively deployed and trust that active UK involvement in determining how the multinational teams responsible for operating the mechanism should work, and to whom they should report, would help to achieve this.

8.11Before clearing the Recommendation from scrutiny, we would like the Minister to report back to us on the progress being made in fleshing out how the EASO monitoring and reporting mechanism will work and how soon multinational teams are likely to be deployed. We trust, at that stage, that the Minister will be able to tell us how feasible it is 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 individual assurances given. We also expect him to inform us promptly of any decision to return asylum seekers from the UK to Greece under the new arrangements.

8.12Pending further information, the 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.

Background

8.13Our earlier Report listed at the end of this chapter describes the content of the Commission Recommendation and the Government’s position.

The Minister’s letter of 1 March 2017

8.14The Minister acknowledges the important role played by international and non-governmental organisations operating on the ground in Greece and notes “the significant amount of support” provided by the UNHCR, in particular, and by the UK. He continues:

“Indeed, the UK Government has been a significant contributor of funding to organisations in Greece in order to provide adequate reception conditions for migrants and refugees. For example, the Department for International Development has supported efforts in Greece through the provision of funding to a number of organisations, including the International Organisation for Migration, UNHCR and the Red Cross. The UK’s £10 million Refugee Children’s Fund for Europe (RCFE) also continues to provide support.

“I believe the views of such organisations are important and, alongside encouraging the Commission to do so, we will engage such organisations to ensure that any resumption of Dublin transfers to Greece is fully considered.”

8.15Turning to the Government’s position on the resumption of Dublin transfers to Greece, the Minister comments:

“Whilst we remain cautious on any future plans, we remain clear on our support for the principles underpinning the Dublin Regulation including preventing ‘asylum shopping’. The Government will consider all issues and will fully engage with the EU institutions, other Member States and relevant organisations as we consider future plans. Any assessment we undertake will fully consider the ability and capacity of the Greek authorities and the relevant jurisprudence. At this time, I am unable to commit to making such an assessment public, although I will ensure I update the Committee in due course.”

8.16The Minister confirms that UK officials are considering whether the UK would participate in the proposed EASO monitoring and reporting mechanism, adding:

“I agree that this is important, but we need to give this further consideration to ensure all UK deployments to EASO are effective deployed. You have also asked for further details on how these multinational teams would work, when they are likely to be established, to whom they would report and how they would monitor each asylum applicant returned. I am currently unable to provide these further details because these details are still under discussion between EU partners; I will provide further details as discussions at EU-level progress.”

Previous Committee Reports

Thirty-first Report HC 71–xxix (2016–17), chapter 13 (8 February 2017).


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

19 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.

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




17 March 2017