European countries have a legal and moral obligation to offer protection and freedom to refugees from inside and outside of our continent: the EU has just adopted a package of significant legislative reforms that will better guarantee the rights of those fleeing persecution. This will give the Union a Common European Asylum System.
The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council have been working for years to define a comprehensive legal framework for the treatment of asylum-seekers. The recent agreement on the reform of the EU asylum system is a major achievement, a credit to the political will and determination of those involved in nearly five years of often difficult negotiations. This is a reminder that the EU is founded on values enshrining respect for human rights and the rule of law. It demonstrates that – even in times of economic crisis – promoting the right to asylum is at the heart of the Union’s efforts to build an area of freedom and justice.
Until now our asylum policy has been a flawed and incomplete construction. Striking differences in the outcome of asylum applications across the EU, the material conditions in which asylum-seekers are received and the procedural rights which they are accorded, have undermined the credibility and effectiveness of our asylum system.
The legal framework we have now adopted consists of detailed common rules introducing clear criteria to be applied when assessing asylum claims, more efficient procedures and better reception conditions to asylum-seekers.
Specific guarantees are introduced for certain categories of vulnerable persons, in particular minors and victims of torture or violence, and it is now expressly recognised that Member States should avoid detention of asylum-seekers.
And for those who see their asylum request accepted and are therefore granted international protection, the new rules harmonise the benefits that go with such a status, especially in terms of enhanced residence rights and easier access to employment and health care.
These changes will now need to be implemented across the Union to ensure that the common standards are applied in practice. Over the coming years, our efforts will focus on practical measures to ensure high standards all across the EU.
The European Union has a responsibility not just to uphold human values for our own citizens, but also to play its part as a leading member of the international community to welcome those seeking refuge from persecution and conflict. We have an obligation to treat every person in a humane manner and – if they are considered to be entitled to protection – offer them the perspective of a decent life and the opportunity to make a contribution to our society here in Europe. I am confident that the legal framework for the common European asylum policy, which has just been agreed upon, will help to make that aspiration a reality.
Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner in charge of Home Affairs