Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Europe

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 11 July 2007
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Europe, 11 July 2007, available at: [accessed 20 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

Despite UNHCR's advisories against forcibly returning any Iraqis or Somalis, the Netherlands returned failed asylum seekers from Somalia, stopping only after repeated rebukes from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Norway also forcibly repatriated 16 rejected asylum seekers from Somalia. The United Kingdom, Switzerland, Denmark, and other EU states also sent failed asylum seekers back to Iraq. In December, the High Administrative Court in Koblenz, Germany announced a ruling that no one targeted Christians for persecution in Iraq. Sweden, on the other hand, granted subsidiary protection to all Iraqis and Belgium, to some.

In March 2007, France forcibly returned a Chadian asylum seeker whose claim its Ministry of Interior rejected as "manifestly unfounded." Chadian authorities arrested him, forcibly interrogated him, and imprisoned him in the central police station.

The Dublin II Regulation (Dublin II) prevented multiple asylum claims in various European states, requiring states to take applicants back in certain cases and adjudicate their claims. Under a 1999 decree, however, the Greek Ministry for Public Order refused to hear nearly 300 asylum claims from Dublin II transferees if they had been gone more than three months for any reason short of force majeure. Since 2004, it refused nearly 300 asylum claims and granted no request for review. As a result, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden all restricted transfers to Greece, and the Greek Refugee Council challenged the practice. In July, the Greek Government ceased applying the 1999 decree in conjunction with Dublin II, and Ministry officials agreed to revoke interruption decisions and accept responsibility to examine claims as soon as it received requests. Greece, however, still had no independent appeals body for asylum seekers.

In May, Denmark amended its Immigration Act to allow revocation of refugee status and expulsion for offenses such as tax evasion and vandalism. In September, Swiss voters overwhelmingly approved a new asylum law to take effect January 2007 under which authorities might refuse to examine claims from applicants who could not supply documentary proof of their identity within 48 hours.

After Spain introduced stricter border controls in Ceuta and Melilla, its enclaves in Northern Africa, arrivals from Northern Africa increased in its Canary Islands to more than 31,000 during the year. Spain sent many back to Senegal and Mauritania, but transferred others to the Spanish mainland after 40 days and released them with deportation orders. Few applied for asylum in the Canaries, but in early September, Spanish border officials said about 15 percent of the last 9,000 migrants came from war-torn nations such as Sierra Leone or Côte d'Ivoire. Frontex, the EU agency for cooperation at its external borders, deployed patrol boats, a helicopter, and planes to West Africa to interdict migrants.

Ukraine intercepted about half of all those trying to enter Europe through its territory, and Slovakia apprehended about four-fifths of those who got past the Ukrainian border patrols. Ukrainian asylum procedures had low recognition rates (0.4 percent in 2005), and Ukraine forced 10 asylum seekers back to Uzbekistan in February claiming they had passed through Moldova and Russia and should have sought asylum there instead. At over $1.36 billion (€1 billion), the EU was Ukraine's biggest donor. Slovakia reportedly returned Chechen asylum seekers to Ukraine with Ukraine returning them to the Russian Federation. Slovakia granted asylum to only eight of the nearly 2,900 persons who applied during the year and none the year before. In September, Belgium defied UNHCR intervention by returning a Chechen to Slovakia, the first EU country in which he had arrived, despite the fact that his second application had nullified the order.

Most EU Directives on asylum came into effect in 2006, but the standards in EU states and prospective members varied widely. Denmark opted out of all the justice and home affairs Directives. EU legislation on asylum also included Directives on reception standards, family reunification (including rules affecting refugees), the qualification of refugees, and procedures, but members had until December 2007 to implement the latter. The EU laws generally contained minimum standards, and member states could continue to apply ones that were more favorable to asylum seekers. National courts were obliged to apply EU law and, if necessary, to ask the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg preliminary questions on their interpretation.

October was the deadline for members to implement the Directive on the qualification of refugees, but only 5 out of 24 EU states did so. The European Commission threatened the others with legal action before the European Court of Justice. Asylum seekers, however, could claim rights under the Directive in national processes, provided these rights were clear and unconditional. The Directive granted refugees rights to status and nonrefoulement. Persons who risked the death penalty, inhuman treatment, or threats to their lives or persons because of indiscriminate violence in conflict had the right to subsidiary protection status. Belgium amended its legislation to include such protection status and granted it to Iraqis and Afghans. Members who previously gave few rights to holders of subsidiary status, such as Poland to Chechens, had to give access to welfare, housing, and the labor market, although not as much as to refugees.

Most EU states had accelerated asylum procedures, with short time limits, limited access to counsel, and/or restricted appeals based on assumptions about the general safety of countries of origin. The Netherlands accelerated claims based largely on its authorities' capacity. Authorities there could examine complex cases, including those of traumatized applicants, in a few days and processed 40 to 50 percent of all asylum seekers within 48 working hours, while other cases took up to five years. France's accelerated procedure included a two-week application deadline after entry, a requirement to submit claims in French, and no protection against deportation during appeals. The proposed EU Procedure Directive would permit such procedures, safe country lists, and denials without written, reasoned decisions or legal assistance. There was no agreement, however, on a list of safe countries of origin. At the eastern European borders, super safe country rules would allow members to transfer asylum seekers to neighboring European countries without examining their claims.

The EU agreed on a readmission agreement with Morocco and cooperation in the field of migration with Algeria and Libya, as well as similar projects in Africa, but paid no similar attention to the protection of refugees or their access to the EU and its asylum procedures. In December, Morocco arrested and expelled hundreds of migrants – including a number of refugees and asylum seekers with UNHCR documentation – in Rabat and Nador, near the Spanish enclave of Melilla, referring to commitments it had made at the EU-Africa conference on migration and development it hosted in July. Libya reportedly had a tacit agreement with Eritrea to return Eritrean nationals and had returned refugees there several times since 2002. In mid-September, Italy agreed to deploy its police in Libya to work with local law enforcement to prevent people from leaving Libya's northern coast by boat but did not protest Libya's arbitrary detentions and expulsions. In February, the European Parliament released a report on members' December 2005 fact-finding trip to Libya, finding that, after Italy returned migrants that might need protection to Libya, Libya deported them to their countries of origin and that Libya had set up camps on its southern border. Libya was not party to the 1951 Convention and had no cooperation protocol with UNHCR's local office.

The EU reserved about $5.3 million (€4 million) for a pilot regional protection program in Tanzania and some $6.7 million (€5 million) for another in Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine, scheduled to start in 2007.

Detention/Access to Courts

With their focus on returns, European countries detained more failed asylum seekers for longer periods of time and under harsher conditions than before. The Netherlands used prison boats to hold detainees, and Spain constructed a detention facility in Mauritania. This facility often held more than its capacity of 250, and the Red Crescent described conditions there as "deplorable." Greece detained asylum seekers and illegal migrants in abandoned factories and warehouses, destroyed buildings, containers, and stables without sanitation, mattresses, or blankets, even in winter. In April, members of a parliamentary committee visited the Sandholm Refugee Reception Centre north of Copenhagen and declared that asylum seekers there were not living in decent conditions. Some 2,400 asylum seekers were in such facilities in Denmark. About 400 of them were children, 900 were applicants authorities had rejected – mostly Iraqis and Kosovo Albanians – and 40 percent had lived there for more than three years. In May, Italy's detention facility on the island of Lampedusa, with a maximum capacity of 190, held more than twice that number. An official inquiry into the October 2005 fire at Schiphol Airport detention center in the Netherlands that killed 11 detained migrants revealed serious shortcomings with fire standards compliance. In October, the ECHR held Belgium in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights for detaining an unaccompanied five-year-old girl from the Democratic Republic of Congo for two months in an adult center without counseling or education before repatriating her in 2002.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

The right of citizens of EU countries to freedom of movement and residence throughout the EU did not apply to refugees or asylum seekers. Even a EU Directive on long-term residents that granted freedom of movement to some categories of non-EU nationals did not grant such rights to refugees in general, although it did waive a means test for them and counted their time as asylum seekers. It excluded beneficiaries of subsidiary forms of protection altogether. The EU Reception Directive allowed states to restrict the freedom of movement of asylum seekers within their borders and Germany required asylum seekers with "tolerated stay," including many non-Albanian Kosovars, to remain in certain regions of the country. Other European countries had reporting requirements that restricted movement. Under the EU Qualification Directive, refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection would have the same freedom of movement as foreigners generally.

Asylum seekers were entitled to documents, within three days of application, attesting to their status and their right to remain during the procedure. Refugees were entitled to residence permits and travel documents. Beneficiaries of subsidiary protection were entitled only to residence permits; however, while they could not obtain national documents, they could receive travel documents if they could cite serious humanitarian reasons.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Countries of the EU normally gave refugees free access to the labor market, but restricted it for asylum seekers and persons granted subsidiary protection. Germany only allowed asylum seekers granted tolerated stay to work in limited and exceptional circumstances and, when they found jobs, they were subject to checks by the Department of Labor as to whether any unemployed German or EU national were available for the jobs. Western European countries often limited asylum seekers to seasonal work or for short periods, in the Netherlands, for example, for 13 weeks per year. Cyprus restricted asylum seekers to agricultural work.

The EU Reception Directive and a Directive on refugee status and subsidiary protection allowed states to restrict access to holders of subsidiary protection based on the situation of the labor market. The Reception Directive granted access to the labor market only to asylum seekers who had not received a first decision within one year and allowed states to give priority to EU citizens and citizens of the European Economic States.

Public Relief and Education

Refugees generally received public assistance on par with nationals. Poland, however, offered almost no public relief to about 85 percent of Chechens in need of protection – one of the largest refugee populations in the EU – because it only granted them subsidiary protection. Some reentered the asylum procedure just to be able to stay in reception centers, while others headed west. Germany also restricted tolerated stay holders to 65 percent of the minimum level of public assistance.

EU law granted asylum seekers the right to subsistence-level public assistance, but actual standards varied widely. States could limit beneficiaries of subsidiary protection to core benefits. Children of refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary forms of protection had the right to education on par with nationals. Adult refugees or subsidiary protectees had access to education on par with other foreigners.

Search Refworld