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Europe

EU agency demands more coherent asylum procedures

Asylum seekers are getting unfair and inconsistent treatment across the EU, says a new report by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. Language bariers mean asylum applicants often don't understand what's going on.

Afghan asylum seekers in Italy

Asylum seekers get different receptions across the EU

Asylum seekers across Europe are on an uneven playing field, according to the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. On Monday, the FRA released two reports looking at the access asylum seekers have to legal remedies and how well informed they are about their rights and the asylum process.

"A fair asylum procedure is one where applicants know their rights and their duties. As our research has shown, this is often not the case in the EU," Morten Kjaerum, the director of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, told a press conference on Monday.

For the first time, the report consults asylum seekers themselves to assess where EU member states fall short of guaranteeing the right to asylum. According to the FRA reports, fundamental rights sometimes "exist only on paper", but not in practice.

Language barriers

Iranian asylum seekers in Cyprus

Asylum seekers often have difficulty understanding their rights and the judicial process

The agency recommended that asylum seekers have access to information in a language that they fully understand.

"If people can't understand what's going on, they can't access their fundamental rights", Waltraud Heller, Spokesperson for the Fundamental Rights Agency, told Deutsche Welle.

At the moment, EU law says that documents should be translated in a language that asylum seekers are "supposed" to understand. But if the asylum seeker comes from a minority group, they may not have a firm grasp of the language of their country of origin. Typically English is the main language for information, but this can be difficult for people who don't speak English fluently.

In France, Greece, Lithuania and Portugal for instance, asylum information leaflets are only translated into five languages, even though over 100 different nationalities applied for asylum in France in 2009.

Germany came top in the EU for translations, providing information in 59 different languages. But the FRA says this still doesn't go far enough because almost 100 different nationalities sought asylum in Germany in 2009.

Afghan asylum seekers in Italy

Some asylum seekers don't have enough time to file an effective appeal.

Impossible appeals limits

The FRA was also concerned about the varying time limits to file an appeal if an application for asylum is declined. Across the 27 EU member states, the time limit to lodge an appeal varies wildly from two days to two months.

In Germany, asylum seekers were concerned that two weeks to submit an appeal there were too short, according to the FRA report.

"With short time limits, the asylum applicants may find it difficult to even get the asylum decisions translated, or to find a lawyer, or to procure in a short time span documents from their country of origin," said Kjaerum.

An EU ministerial conference on asylum will be held in Brussels on September 13 and 14 to discuss asylum procedures across the European Union.

Author: Natalia Dannenberg

Editor: Andreas Illmer

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