The EU as a Global Player in the Refugee Protection Regime
This report seeks to understand the extent to which Europe may be seen as a global player in the international refugee protection regime and whether, to date, Europe’s role has been largely positive or negative. Recognizing that less than 1.8 percent of the people of concern to the UNHCR globally are asylum-seekers in Europe, the author questions whether Europe’s historic focus on asylum within its borders has been overstated and to what extent Europe should be more concerned with refugee protection in regions of origin. Through a broad overview of key policy and legislation dating back to the early 1990s, this paper finds that despite persistent efforts to coordinate an EU level approach to asylum and refugee protection, the process has been severely stifled by the lack of a philosophical consensus between Member States as to what constitutes refugee protection in Europe and globally.
The paper highlights the evolution of EU policy level discussions from a central focus on asylum towards measures that place greater emphasis on protection in regions of origin and finds that recent proposals such as safe third countries and those put forth by the UK have been met by conflicting responses among EU Member States. While proponents have seen proposals such as the implementation of transit processing and regional protection zones as a means to foster necessary capacity building in regions of origin, others have viewed these proposals as burden shifting. In examining the various interpretations of the widely popularized term effective protection, the author urges that effective protection goes beyond merely ensuring sufficient humanitarian assistance to meet basic needs. Rather, the author suggests that effective protection constitutes that states have the capacity to administer effective asylum systems that not only provide legal recognition of refugee status and the documentation to prove it, but also that such systems are able to ensure the basic human rights which are central to refugee protection.
The author recommends that rather than continue to conflate the issues of asylum, resettlement and protection in regions of origin, the EU prioritize the development of a common asylum system that is distinct from both its resettlement and capacity building efforts.