Common EU asylum system: the future?

Last night saw the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, give the International Rescue Committee’s seventh annual lecture. In a wide-ranging speech, covering the impact of poverty, development, climate change and conflict of dynamics of displacement and forced migration Guterres suggested that the development of an EU asylum system is likely to be crucial in providing adequate protection in Europe for those requiring it. He argued, that ‘it is not impossible to provide protection sensitive border control and protect a nation’s security’ and (reading between the lines) its sovereign right to set limits on the number of economic migrants it allows into its territory. But, he argued, ‘this can only be done at the EU-level’ citing combination of the Dublin II regulation (that allows states to send people back to the EU Member State they first arrived into) and divergent recognition rates across different European asylum systems. Sending an Iraqi back to Greece under Dublin II, he implied, amounts to refoulement given Greece’s extremely low recognition rate for Iraqi asylum seekers.

Throughout, Guterres illustrated a keen awareness of the need to understand political contexts at all levels in order to develop effective humanitarian and protection strategies for refugees and other forced migrants. However, is it not in the context of the EU and European politics, that this is most necessary, particularly in the context of recent events in Dublin? Significant political obstacles need to be overcome before member states are likely to agree even on the need for a common European asylum system, let alone agree on one that is protection sensitive. In the short-term at least, the former seems unlikely to be a priority for European officials, given that their very existence is perhaps under threat.

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