Correspondence with Ministers May to October 2007 - European Union Committee Contents

Home Affairs


Letter from Chairman to Liam Byrne MP, Minister of State, Home Office

  Sub-Committee F of the Select Committee on the European Union considered this report on the evaluation of the Dublin system at a meeting on 25 July 2007.

  The Committee found it difficult to share your and the Commission's positive assessment of the working of the Dublin system in the light of the findings. Indeed, it appears to us that the findings suggest rather that the system has failed on many accounts:

    (i)  It has not guaranteed effective access to asylum determination procedures in at least one Member State—a circumstance which, as you will know, has led the High Court recently to rule that provisions of UK immigration law which do not allow an assessment of the risk to asylum seekers who are being sent back to another country under the Dublin arrangements are in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights (Nasseri v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2007] EWHC 1548 Admin). The system plainly cannot operate if there are any Member States to which asylum seekers should in principle be returned, but to which they cannot in practice be returned because those States offer insufficient protection. We would be grateful if you could let us know whether and if so how this problem is being addressed, and whether an amendment to the relevant immigration provisions is to be expected as a consequence of this judgment.

    (ii)  While the rules allocating responsibility might work, the low rate of effective transfers of asylum seekers between the Member States indicates that in most instances this responsibility is not exercised in practice. This is, by admission of the Commission itself, a major problem for the efficient operation of the Dublin system. Member States explain this as being due to the absconding of asylum seekers to avoid such transfers. However, given the extensive use of custodial measures, the absconding may account for only a limited part of the failed transfers. The Commission's own analysis does not support the view that there is a correlation between custodial measures and transfer rates. Could you give us your view as to what other factors might explain the low transfer rate?

    (iii)  The annulment of transfers in some Member States (in particular large users of the Dublin system, such as Germany) indicates that despite considerable expense (let alone hardship to individuals who are unwillingly moved), some Member States end up with more or less the same overall number of applications to deal with. You object to the Commission's proposal for bilateral arrangements concerning "annulment" of the exchange of equal numbers of asylum seekers in well-defined circumstances on grounds of unfairness towards applicants. However you may agree that it might at the same time introduce a degree of fairness into a system which operates in the absence of fully harmonised asylum rules and therefore can result in different outcomes of an asylum claim depending on where it is lodged.

    (iv)  The system does not "strike a balance between responsibility criteria in a spirit of solidarity" (see Dublin Regulation, preamble, recital 8) as it operates at a great disadvantage for Member States at the Eastern and Southern borders of Europe (Poland, Slovakia, Italy, Greece, Estonia, Hungary, etc), which are more exposed to migratory pressure. What proposals are being made to address this imbalance?

    (v)  On the Commission's own admission, the increasing rate of multiple applications indicates that the Dublin System does not have the expected deterrent effect against "asylum shopping", which as you say is the main political objective of the system.

  It is doubtful whether the Commission proposals, which amount to tightening time limits and tidying up definitions, will be sufficient to bring order to a system which, while extremely resource intensive, clearly is not meeting any of its objectives. Moreover, the Committee found the lack of estimates regarding the overall cost of the Dublin system deeply disturbing; they thought it extraordinary that the Commission saw no need to undertake a serious cost/benefit analysis, but were content to act on the assumption that Member States regard fulfilling the political objectives of the system as very important, "regardless of the financial implications involved" (Conclusions, p 13). It cannot be right that we are to accept that taxpayers' money might simply be wasted.

  Finally, we welcome the suggestion in the report that the Commission will carry out a full impact assessment on the use of Eurodac data for law enforcement purposes. We expect this to be submitted along with the legislative proposal on the police use of Eurodac, which the Council in June asked the Commission to submit shortly. Given the significance of this measure, we look forward to an in-depth analysis particularly of the issue of proportionality and the impact on fundamental rights.

  The Committee has decided to keep this document under scrutiny pending receipt of your views and comments on the points we have raised above.

26 July 2007

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