Documents considered by the Committee on 22 November 2017 Contents

31The resumption of transfers of asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin rules

Committee’s assessment

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 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

31.1Under the EU’s 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.386 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.387 This non-binding Commission Recommendation, the fourth in a series, was issued in December 2016. It identifies remaining deficiencies in Greece’s asylum system and the improvements needed to enable Member States to send back asylum seekers to Greece (so-called “Dublin transfers”). The Commission makes clear that the decision to reinstate Dublin transfers to Greece is to be taken exclusively by each Member State and is subject to review by the courts.

31.2Whilst recognising the “significant progress” made by Greece in establishing the “essential institutional and legal structures for a properly functioning asylum system”, the Commission Recommendation notes that shortcomings persist, particularly in ensuring adequate reception conditions, the prompt lodging and processing of asylum applications and the proper treatment of vulnerable asylum seekers. It recommends a gradual resumption of Dublin transfers from 15 March 2017 onwards to avoid placing an unsustainable burden on Greece, with each transfer based on individual assurances given by Greece that the 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 recommends that vulnerable asylum applicants should not be transferred to Greece for the time being. It calls 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 are applied in practice.

31.3Our predecessors:

31.4The Government told our predecessors in April that “no firm decisions” had 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 supported EASO involvement and was willing to continue “political dialogue on this sensitive issue”, it had 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 UK does not participate in EU relocation measures.

31.5Our predecessors asked the Government to update the Committee on any further developments. They also noted that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, had 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”.388 They asked whether the Government agreed with UNHCR that Dublin transfers to Hungary should be suspended and whether it had given an instruction to this effect.

31.6In his letter of 13 July, the Immigration Minister (Brandon Lewis) says that some progress has been made in developing a common approach to vulnerability assessments and in clarifying the role of EASO in the event of a resumption of Dublin transfers to Greece. He confirms that the Government has decided temporarily to suspend Dublin transfers to Hungary following a High Court ruling last year identifying systemic deficiencies in Hungary’s asylum laws, UNHCR’s appeal for transfers to be suspended and Hungary’s refusal to accept transfer requests.

31.7In light of the Minister’s response we agree to clear the Recommendation from scrutiny. We expect to be informed promptly of any change in the Government’s position on the return of asylum seekers to Greece or Hungary. 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

31.8Our 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 our predecessors raised about the feasibility of reinstating Dublin transfers to Greece.

31.9In a press release issued on 10 April, UNHCR highlighted concerns with Hungary’s treatment of asylum seekers, including:

The Minister’s letter of 13 July 2017

31.10The Minister informs us that the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) convened a meeting of technical experts on 4–5 May to discuss Dublin returns to Greece, attended by an official from the UK as well as officials from a number of other States, the European Commission and EASO itself. He continues:

“Discussions during the meeting focused on developing a common approach on assessments of vulnerability that would preclude transfer and on the nature of assurances to be provided by the Greek authorities to other Dublin Member States in the event of a resumption of Dublin transfers to Greece. The group considered that the assessment of vulnerability should be ongoing and on a case-by-case basis. Detailed and regularly updated information reports on the systems in place should be prepared by EASO to support the process. The reports should include a description of reception facilities meeting the standards of the EU asylum acquis and provide particular detail on those facilities to which Dublin transferees would be accommodated. The reports should also include information on the asylum procedure, including general timescales. EASO and the Commission will follow up with all members of the Dublin Network and with the Greek authorities on the implementation of the Recommendation. I will update you as appropriate.”

31.11Turning to the situation in Hungary, the Minister tells us:

“Last August, the UK’s High Court ruled against our ability to make Dublin transfers to Hungary due to ‘systemic deficiencies’ in the asylum procedure following changes to Hungarian asylum law which the Court found to place applicants at the risk of refoulement to Serbia and beyond. However, the Court did not make a blanket and long-term ruling preventing returns. On a practical basis, Hungary is refusing to accept Dublin returns from Member States where, in Hungary’s opinion, Greece should be responsible for examining the asylum claim. The UK, the Commission, and other Member States continue to raise the issue with Hungary and we understand the Commission is taking action to address this.

“In addition to these legal and practical points, we are also aware of reporting on the current situation for migrants and asylum seekers in Hungary following further changes to their asylum legislation. We note UNHCR’s recent call for the temporary suspension of Dublin transfers to Hungary. With all this in mind, including Hungary’s position to refuse transfer requests, the Government (pre-election) took a decision to temporarily suspend making Dublin Regulation requests to Hungary. The Government will now continue to monitor the situation.”

Previous Committee Reports

Fortieth Report HC 71–xxxvii (2016–17), chapter 19 (25 April 2017); Thirty-first Report HC 71–xxix (2016–17), chapter 13 (8 February 2017; and Thirty-fifth Report HC 71–xxxiii (2016–17), chapter 8 (15 March 2017).


386 The latest version of the Dublin Regulation—Dublin III—was adopted in June 2013. The Commission’s proposal for an overhaul of the Dublin rules remains under negotiation.

387 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.

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

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




28 November 2017