Documents considered by the Committee on 25 April 2017 Contents

19The 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

19.1This is the fourth in a series of non-binding Recommendations in which the Commission identifies deficiencies in Greece’s asylum system and the improvements needed to enable Member States to send back asylum seekers who first entered the EU through Greece (so-called “Dublin transfers”). Under 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.51 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.52 The Recommendations are intended to assist Member States in deciding whether or not sufficient improvements have been made to reinstate Dublin transfers to Greece. 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.

19.2In its latest Recommendation (issued last December) the Commission recognised the “significant progress” made by Greece in establishing the “essential institutional and legal structures for a properly functioning asylum system” but noted that shortcomings persisted, particularly in ensuring adequate reception conditions, the prompt lodging and processing of asylum applications and the proper treatment of vulnerable asylum seekers. It considered that the full resumption of Dublin transfers would place an unsustainable burden on Greece and recommended instead a gradual resumption, with each transfer based on individual assurances given by Greece that the applicant’s claim for asylum would be dealt with promptly and that EU asylum laws on the reception and treatment of asylum seekers would be respected in each case. Given the still “precarious” treatment of unaccompanied minors, the Commission indicated that vulnerable asylum applicants should not be transferred to Greece for the time being. The Commission envisaged that Dublin transfers would apply only to asylum applicants who entered Greece irregularly from 15 March 2017 onwards or for whom Greece assumed responsibility from that date on the basis of other Dublin criteria, such as family ties. It called on the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) to deploy a team of experts to Greece to monitor the treatment of individuals transferred under the Dublin rules and ensure that the individual assurances given before transfer were applied in practice.

19.3The Immigration Minister (Mr Robert Goodwill) told us in January that the gradual resumption of Dublin transfers to Greece from mid-March was “subject to various conditions being met” and added:

“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.”53

19.4We sought an assurance that the Government would not reinstate Dublin transfers to Greece without first consulting international organisations, such as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration, and non-governmental organisations operating on the ground in Greece 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 made clear 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 could be properly evaluated.

19.5We also indicated that UK participation in the proposed EASO monitoring and reporting mechanism should be an essential pre-requisite to any decision to reinstate Dublin transfers from the UK to Greece and called for active UK involvement in determining how the multinational teams responsible for operating the mechanism should work and to whom they should report. We asked the Minister to update us on the progress being made in fleshing out how the EASO monitoring and reporting mechanism would work and how soon multinational teams were likely to be deployed. We also asked him to tell us 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 individual assurances given. We added that we expected to be informed promptly of any decision to return asylum seekers from the UK to Greece under the new arrangements.

19.6In his latest update, the Minister tells us that “no firm decisions” have been taken, either on the nature of the assurances to be given by Greece or on the possible composition and role of the proposed EASO monitoring teams. While Greece supports EASO involvement and is willing to continue “political dialogue on this sensitive issue”, it has linked the resumption of Dublin transfers to more rapid progress in moving asylum seekers already in Greece to other Member States under the EU relocation scheme agreed in September 2015. The Minister reminds us that the Government does not participate in or support the relocation of asylum seekers within the EU.

19.7The Commission has repeatedly called on Member States participating in the EU relocation scheme to fulfil their relocation commitments. Given the reluctance of most to do so, and the slow pace of relocation from Greece (just over 11,000 asylum seekers have been transferred since September 2015), Greece’s unwillingness to take back asylum seekers for whom it is responsible under the Dublin rules is perhaps unsurprising. We note, however, that Greece is willing to continue political dialogue on the nature of the assurances to be given as and when Dublin transfers are reinstated and on the proposed EASO monitoring and reporting mechanism. We welcome the Minister’s undertaking to inform us of any new developments. Pending further progress, we retain the Commission Recommendation under scrutiny.

19.8Greece is not the only Member State in which the treatment of asylum seekers is a cause for concern. On 10 April, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, expressed “deep concern” at the treatment of asylum seekers in Hungary and called for the suspension of Dublin transfers “until the Hungarian authorities bring their practices and policies in line with European and international law”.54 How have the UK and other Member States reacted to UNHCR’s plea? Does the Minister agree with UNHCR that Dublin transfers to Hungary should be suspended and has an instruction to this effect been given by the Government?

19.9We 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, COM(16) 8525.


19.10Our earlier Reports listed at the end of this chapter describe the content of the Commission Recommendation, the Government’s position and the Minister’s response to the questions we have raised about the feasibility of reinstating Dublin transfers to Greece.

19.11Greece is not the only Member State in which the treatment of asylum seekers is a cause for concern. In a press release issued on 10 April, UNHCR reiterated its concern that Hungary’s “physical barriers and restrictive policies have resulted in effectively denying access to territory and asylum”. Recent emergency measures had led to the mandatory detention of asylum seekers in shipping containers at the border, surrounded by high razor fences, for the duration of the asylum procedure. UNHCR also drew attention to “highly disturbing reports of serious incidents of ill-treatment and violence against people crossing the border into Hungary, including by State agents”.55

19.12When the Minister wrote to us in March, he made clear that the views of UNHCR and other organisations operating on the ground were “important” and that the Government would continue to engage with them to ensure that Dublin transfers were “fully considered”.56

The Minister’s letter of 11 April 2017

19.13The Minister reiterates the Government’s view that the resumption of Dublin transfers to Greece “would depend entirely on Greece being in a position to provide the necessary assurances”. He continues:

“The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) convened a meeting of officials from States participating in the Dublin Regulation on 2 March to explore how it could support the process in line with the Commission’s Recommendations, in particular the provision of assurances. The Commission and UNHCR were also represented. Greece welcomed EASO’s involvement, however, its position was that a resumption of transfers is premature due to a shortfall in the delivery of transfer spaces under the Council Decisions on relocation.

“As there was uncertainty as to the extent to which the necessary assurances would be forthcoming in practice, the dialogue at the meeting was based on a hypothesis of a resumption of transfers. The discussions covered: how Member States might identify vulnerable applicants in accordance with EU rules on asylum in order to exclude such applicants from any proposed transfers in line with the Commission’s Recommendation; the mechanisms for EASO to call for experts from Member States to form the monitoring teams and the nature of assurances to meet different national needs, in particular in terms of any legal challenges against transfers in different national jurisdictions. No firm decisions were taken on the terms of assurances or the possible composition of and roles for EASO’s expert teams given the uncertainty. I am therefore unable to provide further information at this time on the role of EASO teams in monitoring returnees, however, the exchanges provided a basis for reflection and proposals from EASO in the future.

“Subsequently at the Council Working Group on asylum on 15 March, the Commission repeated to the Group the position that Greece had advised that it was not able to resume transfers linked to the delivery of the Council Decisions on relocation, but was committed to further political dialogue on this sensitive issue.”

19.14The Minister recalls that the UK does not participate in or support the EU’s policy of relocating asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other EU Member States but says that the Government “stand[s] ready to react to calls to provide further support to Greece on the ground to improve its asylum system”. He undertakes to inform us of any new developments.

Previous Committee Reports

Thirty-fifth Report HC 71–xxxiii (2016–17), chapter 8 (15 March 2017) and Thirty-first Report HC 71–xxix (2016–17), chapter 13 (8 February 2017).

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

52 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.

53 See para 27 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum of 27 January 2017.

54 See the press release issued by UNHCR on 10 April 2017.

55 See the press release issued by UNHCR on 10 April 2017.

56 See the Minister’s letter of 1 March 2017.

27 April 2017