Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2018, 09:04 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2008 - European Union

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2008 - European Union, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 23 January 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.

EU figures

Refoulement/Physical Protection

In March, France forcibly returned a Chadian asylum seeker whose claim its Ministry of Interior rejected as "manifestly unfounded." Upon his return, Chadian authorities arrested, forcibly interrogated, and imprisoned him.

In general, European countries followed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) recommendations not to return rejected Iraqi asylum seekers to the southern and central parts of Iraq and to return Kurds only to the Kurdish areas in the North if they had family links there. In April, however, Sweden returned to Baghdad one rejected Iraqi asylum seeker from northern Iraq.

In November, the UK's House of Lords approved the forced return of non-Arab Sudanese from Darfur, reasoning that, even if they could not return to that province, the internally displaced persons squatter camps around Khartoum were "not ... unduly harsh," as the London Court of Appeals had found. In December, Sweden's Migration Board allowed the Government to return Somali asylum seekers to Mogadishu unless they could show specific targeting for persecution, reasoning that the rebels in Mogadishu held no territory and that the situation there did not amount to armed conflict.

The Greek coast guard systematically forced boatloads of potential asylum seekers out of its national waters and back into Turkish territorial waters, sometimes deliberately damaging their boats to prevent their return or attempting to swamp them with waves, and, occasionally abandoning migrants on uninhabited islands. On Chios

Island, authorities subjected one migrant to serious beating, mock execution, and electric shocks and pushed his head into a bucket of water. Greek border guards arrested migrants upon arrival, issued all of them automatic deportation orders, and detained them incommunicado without registration for several days before returning them to Turkey. In March, authorities transferred 41 Iraqis they apprehended on Chios Island to Thessaloniki transfer center for return to Turkey. Officials did not permit them to apply for asylum and beat several who refused to board the bus for Turkey. In August, in the strait between Chios Island and Turkey, the coast guard opened fire upon one boat it claimed would not stop, killing its captain. All three men on the boat, however, turned out to be Greek citizens who said they did stop and the coast guard shot their captain anyway.

In July, Ukraine detained, reportedly beat, and sought to extradite an ethnic Chechen refugee to the Russian Federation on charges of robbery, but the Human Rights Commissioner requested a hearing for him. In September, the Kiev City Court of Appeal stayed the extradition and he remained in detention at the end of the year. In October, UNHCR strongly advised states to refrain from returning asylum seekers to Ukraine, as there was no assurance that it would give them fair refugee status determinations, treat them in accordance with international standards, or protect them from refoulement. There were 17 violent attacks on asylum seekers in Kiev alone during the year and, in January 2008, assailants stabbed a 19-year old asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of Congo to death. In September 2007, three Chechen girls died of exhaustion and exposure after spending four days on a mountain, seeking to cross from Ukraine to Poland with their mother and another sister.

Asylum grant rates varied widely, with newer EU members on the periphery generally being lower. While Austria granted 80 percent of Chechen cases, for example, Poland granted only 20 percent and Croatia and Slovenia none at all. Until July, while Sweden deemed 90 percent of Iraqis to merit protection, Greece granted it to almost none. In France and Germany, the EU's Qualification Directive expanded the scope of grounds for granting protection, in particular for Somalis in Germany, but the Directive did not establish a common standard for internal alternatives to asylum. France, for example, did not apply the concept of internal protection to Chechens in any of about 60 cases UNHCR reviewed whereas Germany and Slovakia considered most of the territory of the Russian Federation acceptable for return. In December, Sweden's Migration Court of Appeal rejected an Iraqi applicant who could show only a specific threat against his brother, adding that Iraq was merely experiencing "difficult circumstances."

While the number of asylum seekers in the EU halved over the past five years, they increased in Greece to 12,300 in 2006 and more than 25,100 in 2007, about a quarter of them from Iraq. Greece granted 8 people refugee status in the first instance, 138 on appeal, and 23 humanitarian protection. Between October 2006 and April 2007, Greek officials denied every one of more than 300 applicants from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Sudan. Their files showed no reference to facts of the cases or legal reasoning; instead, each had a paragraph saying the applicant sought employment and better living conditions. Authorities granted neither asylum nor subsidiary protection in the first instance to any of the nearly 5,500 Iraqis who applied in 2007. By year's end, more than 19,000 appeals were pending and waiting periods varied from two months to four years.

Under the Dublin Regulation, which allocated responsibility to examine asylum claims within the EU and associated States, Sweden returned some 900, mostly Iraqis, to Greece. In October, Belgium halted the return of an Iraqi to Greece and, in December, one of its courts forbade returning an Afghan family there. In February 2008, the Norwegian Immigration Appeal Board decided against returning asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin Regulation and, in April, UNHCR advised other governments similarly to refrain and to examine the cases themselves.

Italy did not recognize gender-based persecution claims under the particular social group ground of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention). Although its Constitution provided a right of asylum, Italy had not fully implemented it into legislation.

In January, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) unanimously rejected the Netherlands' claim that a Somali of a minority ethnic group had to show that persecutors would single him out.

Sweden revoked the expulsion orders it had issued to two Egyptian asylum seekers it had turned over to U.S. agents in 2001 after Egyptian authorities, contrary to their assurances, tortured them.

Spain complained to the European Commission about Malta's refusal in May to accept 26 Ivorians from the Spanish tugboat that had rescued them. Shortly after this incident, a Maltese boat refused to allow some 27 shipwrecked Africans to board and left them clinging to tuna nets in the water for at least 24 hours as Maltese and Libyan authorities disagreed about who should accept them. An Italian boat eventually agreed to pick them up and take them to Lampedusa. At the time, a technical mission of the EU external borders agency, Frontex, was in Libya discussing Libya's highly porous southern border and recommended that Libya play a leading role in maritime interdiction as well. Libya was not party to the 1951 Convention, had no cooperation protocol with the UNHCR, and reportedly had repeatedly exercised a tacit agreement at least with Eritrea to return its nationals.

In June, a Maltese boat captain defied the orders of the Armed Forces of Malta that he return some 20 African castaways to Libya. The authorities argued that he had picked them up in the Libyan search and rescue area but he countered that Libya was not an appropriate place to send asylum seekers. They threatened him with arrest for trafficking but relented when he still refused and eventually allowed them to disembark in Malta. In August, Italy arrested and charged seven Tunisian fishermen with aiding illegal migration for rescuing 44 migrants at sea and bringing them to Italy. After more than a month, Italy released them when members of the European Parliament protested their continued detention. Only four European countries – the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, and Lithuania – responded to Malta's request that they receive some of the refugees who landed on its shores, accepting 36, 20, 13, and 6, respectively. (The United States agreed to accept 200.)

In September, Italy offered to grant protection to an Iranian lesbian whom the United Kingdom had arrested and planned to repatriate. The President of the European Parliament wrote to the British prime minister asking him to suspend her deportation to Iran "where she clearly faces execution" and to allow her to travel to Italy. By year's end, her status remained unclear. In October, Somali asylee cum Dutch citizen and Member of Parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali returned to the Netherlands when the Dutch Government declined to pay the €2 million per month that her security in the United States cost. In response, the Danish Minister of Culture Brian Mikkelsen offered her asylum under the International Cities of Refuge Network for threatened writers, and the French newspaper Libération launched a petition denouncing the Dutch decision and calling for France to give her honorary citizenship and pay the bill.

In January 2008, Switzerland accepted the return of Stanley Van Tha, an asylum seeker from Myanmar whom its Federal Migration Office had found not credible and refused to hear in 2003 because he had a passport. After the Refugee Appeals Board upheld that decision, authorities had to gag and bind him to a wheelchair to refoule him in 2004. Myanmar authorities then arrested and sentenced him, without trial, to 19 years in prison for endangering peace and security, unlawful departure, and use of a false passport. Before admitting error, Swiss authorities had claimed his imprisonment was likely for criminal reasons, refusing military service, or participating in a film criticizing his government. In November, Myanmar authorities released him and he escaped again to India where Swiss authorities gave him a ticket to Zurich where his wife and son awaited him.

In April, the ECHR ruled unanimously against France's practice of holding asylum seekers in airport waiting areas and not allowing them to file claims until authorities decided whether they were "manifestly unfounded." Authorities made those decisions on the substance of the applications rather than simply whether they stated basic asylum claims and could deport applicants even while appeals of those decisions were pending. In the subsequent fortnight, judges released 40 asylum seekers from the waiting area of the Roissy International Airport in Paris. In response, France's new Aliens Bill granted asylum seekers at the border 24-hour suspensions of deportation to file appeals. In September, however, the National Assembly amended the bill to shorten the deadline for filing appeals inside the country from one month to 15 days, suspending deportation for the appeal only in certain cases.

Switzerland's 1998 Asylum Act allowed authorities to declare claims "manifestly unfounded" and refuse to hear them if applicants could not document their identity within 48 hours. In July, Switzerland's Supreme Administrative Court ruled that drivers' licenses and birth certificates would no longer suffice as proof of identity. Only documents that the country of origin used to establish identity were acceptable in order to facilitate repatriation upon rejection. In August, however, the Court ruled that authorities could not refuse to hear claims based on lack of identification. In November, the Committee against Torture criticized the Act and forbade the return of a Congolese asylum seeker to whom authorities denied a hearing even though, by the time of his appeal, he had the documentation. The Asylum Appeals Board had reasoned that he should have supplied it within 48 hours.

In January 2008, Slovenia passed the Asylum Act, which applied accelerated procedures without complete hearings to all applications for asylum except those it deemed "manifestly well-founded" or those filed by separated children or persons with special needs. It also allowed the Government to expel persons appealing negative decisions before the outcome.

In July, Denmark airlifted nearly 400 Iraqi employees directly from Iraq but the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office insisted that Iraqi translators who formerly worked for the British Army must travel to Syria or Jordan and apply for resettlement through UNHCR with all other Iraqi refugees. For the first time, Slovenia agreed to accept refugees from UNHCR for resettlement.

Detention/Access to Courts

According to the Jesuit Refugee Service, the countries of the EU had 224 immigration detention facilities with a total capacity of more than 30,000 people. They often held people for as long as 18 months and, in a number of countries, there was no upper limit on length of detention.

Greece systematically detained illegal migrants including asylum seekers, unaccompanied minors as young as ten, torture and trafficking victims, disabled persons, and pregnant women from countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia in substandard conditions. In June, a delegation of Members of the European Parliament found the detention center on the island of Samos to be overcrowded, understaffed, and lacking medical staff and interpreters and found regular detention of unaccompanied minors in solitary confinement. In July, UNHCR found unaccompanied minors detained with adults at the center in Mytilini. In October, UNHCR inspected the Samos center and found that it held 391 people, including women and children, despite a capacity of 120. Authorities in Greece's border areas generally released migrants who did not apply for asylum but held those who did for the maximum period of three months, often much longer when authorities could not deport detainees. Authorities issued deportation orders and other documents in Greek, but there were no professional interpreters on any of the islands where authorities held migrants and/or asylum seekers. Detainees had almost no access to legal advice. Authorities confiscated their mobile phones and provided no alternatives. In February, authorities prevented 16 stowaways (5 of whom were children and 2 of whom had serious medical conditions) from leaving their ship in Pireus for a week while they decided whether to accept their asylum claims.

A doctor with Medicare Services Limited testified that Malta isolated seven or eight detained asylum seekers with chicken pox in a windowless isolation cell where they had to eat and relieve themselves. The doctor witnessed at least one beating, widespread disease, poor hygiene, and overcrowding.

Malta and Cyprus did not require a court order to detain or prolong immigration detention, and in the Czech Republic, asylum seekers detained under the Dublin II Regulation did not have the right to challenge their detention. Lithuania did not limit the duration of immigration detention and, in Malta, the maximum for asylum seekers was one year. Cypriot law limited the detention of asylum seekers to 32 days but authorities held a Palestinian asylum seeker with a possibly torture-related disability since his May arrival without explanation or adequate medical care. The Czech Republic, Poland, and Spain all limited or completely blocked independent human rights organizations' monitoring of places in their major airports where they held potential asylum seekers. Austria did not allow persons in the expulsion facility at Vienna airport the use of a phone. Hungary kept persons for an average of two days in Budapest airport's official transfer room with only chairs. Detainees could not use public telephones without an official escort. In the Warsaw airport, there was no public telephone available or any information about the right or possibility to apply for asylum.

In January 2008, the ECHR found Belgium's more than 10-day detention in 2003 of two asylum seekers in the transit section of the Brussels airport without food, beds, or ability to wash themselves or their clothes or to apply for asylum to be unlawful and inhuman. Only the cleaning staff of the company that ran the airport gave them food.

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 an 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 not require them to prove economic self-sufficiency or insurance coverage and counted their time as asylum seekers toward the duration requirement for longterm residence. It excluded beneficiaries of other forms of protection than asylum. The EU Reception Directive allowed states to restrict the freedom of movement of asylum seekers within their borders and Germany required those with "tolerated stay," including many Iraqis and non-Albanian Kosovars, to remain in certain regions of the country. Other countries had reporting requirements that restricted movement.

Under the EU Qualification Directive, refugees and beneficiaries of other forms of protection would have the same freedom of movement as foreigners generally. Refugees were entitled to residence permits and travel documents. Beneficiaries of other forms of protection were entitled only to residence permits, but they could receive travel documents if they could cite serious humanitarian reasons and could not obtain documents from their home country.

In January 2008, Germany's Federal Administrative Court ruled that the Government could no longer restrict the residence of refugees to the locality that issued their residence permits simply because they received public assistance.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Countries of the EU normally allowed refugees to work freely, but restricted work rights for asylum seekers and persons granted subsidiary protection. Slovenia, however, restricted refugees' right to work for one year. Ireland did not let asylum seekers work but passed the Medical Practitioners Act in May, which had a training program for refugees and allowed refugee doctors to practice after passing an exam. Cyprus allowed asylum seekers with only subsidiary protection, many of them Iraqis, to work only on farms for the first year. Germany allowed asylum seekers granted "tolerated stay" to work only in limited and exceptional circumstances and, even when they found jobs, they were subject to checks by the Department of Labor as to whether any unemployed German or EU nationals could take the jobs instead. Western European countries often limited asylum seekers to seasonal work or for short periods.

Greece did not allow asylum seekers or persons with humanitarian protection to work unless they could show that citizens, EU nationals, refugees, or aliens of Greek origin were not interested in the position. Even refugees had to show employer statements that they intended to employ them and documents to prove the origin of necessary investment capital to get a permit for self-employment.

The EU Reception Directive and a Directive on refugee status and subsidiary protection allowed states to restrict work rights of holders of subsidiary protection based on 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 Chechens because it granted them only subsidiary protection. Some reentered the asylum procedure just to be able to stay in reception centers, while others headed west.

The United Kingdom denied childless asylum seekers housing and health services if they applied 72 hours or more after arrival with few exceptions. EU law granted asylum seekers the right to subsistence-level public assistance, but actual reception 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 the general educational system on par with other foreigners.

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