EU Refugee Policy: Right to Asylum or Prison Mentality? | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 27.03.2009
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EU Refugee Policy: Right to Asylum or Prison Mentality?

Despite overcrowded refugee camps on islands such as Lampedusa and Malta -- where thousands of Africans have tried to set their foot on European soil illegally -- the EU is still lacking a joint asylum policy.

An African refugee in refugee camp on Malta

The EU needs a unified policy for its streams of refugees

When EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot recently visited refugee camps on Lampedusa and Malta, he was horrified by the conditions of the camps. In Brussels, commission spokesperson Johannes Laitenberger then called on other EU countries to help.

"The policy of the commission in this situation is to demonstrate solidarity so that we can help refugees and the EU countries that are trying to handle the situation," said Laitenberger.

Solidarity in accepting refugees is one thing. But German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble already summarized in 2005 how he envisioned EU member states solving the refugee problem.

"In addition to more efficient border controls that they need, they must fight the causes and cooperate with the neighboring states," he said.

EU has responsibility for refugees

Wolfgang Schaeuble

Schaeuble has put the emphasis on preventing refugees from making it to Europe

The EU has been trying to prevent streams of refuges this way for several years. But critics say that the EU's entire refugee policy is too defensive.

"Better protection and more access to lasting solutions in the refugees' country of origin is a respectable goal" said António Guterres, the UN high commissioner for refugee matters back in 2006.

"But this should not come at the expense of Europe's own responsibility to grant asylum to those who need it. Europe is a continent of asylum and must remain this way."

European parliamentarian Wolfgang Kreissl-Doerfler visited Lampedusa four years ago with a parliamentarian group. He was shocked by the state of the refugee camps, and he has seen no improvement since then.

"Now everything is being thrown into one pot again -- that's the problem," Kreissl-Doerfler said. "Some people come as economic refugees, but others have a right to asylum and can ask for it. Yet these people sometimes don't even get a chance to apply, particularly in Greece and Italy."

"They are not informed about their right to asylum. They are immediately put in custody, pending deportation, and are then swiftly transported away," he said.

EU doing too little

Immigrants seen at Lampedusa centre on 23 January 2009

Refugees are flooding the Italian island of Lampedusa

Kreissl-Doerfler also accused the commission of doing too little to remind countries like Italy of their responsibility

"Yes, the EU could do a lot," Kreissl-Doerfler said. "It isn't about finances -- it's about saying: We have a refugee problem not only in the Mediterranean but also in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and a bit in Germany, and we will determine contingent numbers for the individual countries and divide the refugees up accordingly."

"I must say this: When we had the great flood of refugees at the beginning of the 90s with 280,000 asylum-seekers a year, nothing was seen from the other EU countries. So, while solidarity is now being called for by the southern countries, they weren't offering it before."

Author: Christoph Hasselbach (ls)

Editor: Toma Tasovac

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