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As EU assesses balance of responsibilities with respect to asylum claims, new MPI Europe report examines ‘fading promise’ of Dublin system

Press Release
Tuesday, March 17, 2015

As EU assesses balance of responsibilities with respect to asylum claims, new MPI Europe report examines ‘fading promise’ of Dublin system

BRUSSELS — The effective functioning of the European Union’s Common European Asylum System (CEAS) is under increased scrutiny, as the rising number of asylum seekers in Europe has thrown existing divergences in national asylum policies and practice into relief.

The Dublin system, once viewed as the cornerstone of the CEAS, has been vilified as a failure of solidarity and burden-sharing among EU Member States, which confront different realities and pressures in coping with rising humanitarian and irregular migration flows.

But a new Migration Policy Institute Europe report, Not Adding Up: The fading promise of Europe’s Dublin System, notes that the Dublin system was not designed to equalise or share asylum burdens. Rather, its chief purpose is to create a mechanism that swiftly assigns responsibility for processing an individual asylum application to a single Member State.

At a time when Member States are reassessing how far existing tools and policies can ensure a fair balance of responsibilities between states with respect to asylum claims, this is a timely moment to look at what the Dublin system was meant—and not meant—to be, and how far it can address current imbalances by itself’, said Elizabeth Collett, director of MPI Europe.

The report, written by MPI associate policy analyst Susan Fratzke, finds that while Dublin, or some form of responsibility-allocating mechanism, will remain necessary so long as separate national asylum systems exist in a European space without internal border controls, the Dublin Regulation as implemented is largely failing to achieve its primary goals. The system’s effectiveness has been undermined by low effective transfer rates and a persistently high incidence of secondary movement among asylum seekers. In addition, delays caused by Dublin procedures in the evaluation of protection claims have raised serious concerns among asylum advocates.

The report observes that the charge most often levelled at the Dublin Regulation—that it has prompted a transfer of asylum-processing responsibilities from Europe’s north to its southern borders—is not borne out by the evidence. While northern European states clearly send more transfer requests, and those in the south are most likely to be on the receiving end of requests, the disparity in numbers of actual transfers is relatively small. In fact, many of those countries perceived to be ‘sending’ states also receive a substantial number of transfers.

The practical effects of the 2013 recast of the Dublin Regulation remain to be seen, and are likely to depend in part on the interpretation of European courts. The recast clarified how the system assigns responsibility for asylum claims, tightened deadlines and created an ‘early warning and preparedness mechanism’ to address emerging deficiencies in national asylum systems. But the report suggests two key areas of focus for the European Commission during its scheduled ‘fitness check’ of the Dublin recast in 2016: increased information gathering on key aspects of the Dublin system’s implementation, and measures to improve communication and collaboration between the asylum authorities of Member States to streamline decision-making and transfer procedures. 

“The time may have come to reassess the role that Dublin plays in the CEAS and think more innovatively about burden-sharing across the European Union’, Collett said. ‘The report notes there may be room to move beyond limited policy adjustments and consider deeper changes, including capacity-sharing arrangements such as stand-alone mechanisms to relocate refugees within the European Union on the basis of more objective criteria’. 

The report is the second in a joint project between MPI Europe and the International Migration Initiative of the Open Society Foundations. The project, EU Asylum: Towards 2020, aims to contribute to development of the CEAS consistent with the European Union’s interests, values and obligations, through research on challenges and options on asylum to inform the development of evidence-based policies and laws. The project involves broad consultations with Member States, EU institutions, civil society, international organisations and academics, to draw on their expertise and seek to work towards consensus on the many key questions around responses to asylum on which perspectives differ.

Over the coming weeks, MPI Europe and MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration will release a number of reports focusing on asylum and the global protection system. 

The report released today can be read at: http://migrationpolicy.org/research/not-adding-fading-promise-europes-dublin-system.

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Migration Policy Institute Europe, which is based in Brussels, provides authoritative research and practical policy design to governmental and non-governmental stakeholders who seek more effective management of immigration, immigrant integration and asylum systems, as well as better outcomes for newcomers, families of immigrant background and receiving communities throughout Europe. For more on its work, visit www.mpieurope.org.