Select Committee on European Scrutiny Sixth Report


3. PROCEDURES FOR GRANTING AND WITHDRAWING REFUGEE STATUS



(23593)

10279/02

COM(02) 326



Amended draft Directive on minimum standards for procedures in Member States for granting and withdrawing refugee status.

Legal base:Article 63 EC; consultation; unanimity
Department:Home Office
Basis of consideration:Minister's letter of 10 December 2002
Previous Committee Report:HC 152-xli (2001-02), paragraph 8 (6 November 2002)
To be discussed in Council:No date set
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Not cleared; further information requested



Background

  3.1  The draft Directive aims to set minimum standards for fair and efficient asylum procedures in Member States. When we first considered this amended version (in November), we kept it under scrutiny. We asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Race Equality, Community Policy and European and International Policy (Lord Filkin) to let us know the results of consultation with NGOs, and to keep us informed about the progress of negotiations. We also asked him to clarify his comment about the requirement to provide applicants with information on procedure in a language that they understand.

The Minister's letter

  3.2  The Minister has now written to us on the specific point we raised. He reminds us that the original draft proposal[8] stipulated that initial information on procedure had to be given in a language understood by the applicant. Several Member States were unhappy about this absolute obligation, since they felt that, despite their best intentions, they might be unable to fulfil it because of a shortage of interpreters or other resources. The revised proposal now stipulates that the information must be issued in a language which applicants "may reasonably be supposed to understand". The Minister supports the revision, saying : "Swift agreement of this draft Directive remains a UK priority and we would not support overly prescriptive requirements which become an obstacle to agreement".

  3.3  The Minister then outlines the current UK procedures. He tells us:

"The UK provides initial information on our asylum procedures in 32 languages by means of covering notes for the form used by most applicants to provide the basis of their claim. The notes explain who qualifies for asylum, how to fill the form in, the application procedure, and how to access advice and translation services. In addition, we are currently preparing a different leaflet, again in the applicant's own language, for those subject to the new non-suspensive appeals process.

"Asylum seekers entering Dover induction centre are briefed about their rights and responsibilities and about what they can expect in terms of the UK asylum system. Currently, this material is presented to applicants in English, accompanied by oral translation in a language they understand. We plan to make translated versions of this information available in writing to applicants at Dover induction centre by April 2003. The briefing service and materials will be available at other induction centres as the network is rolled-out across the country in the course of next year."

  3.4  Finally, the Minister tells us clearly that the UK supports the wording in Article 9 (1) as it currently appears in the Commission's amended proposal.

Conclusion

  3.5  We have some difficulty in understanding why the requirement to inform applicants about procedures in a language "which they may reasonably be supposed to understand" is significantly less of an absolute obligation than the requirement that the information must be given in a language "which they [applicants] understand". The problems cited — a shortage of interpreters or other resources — might still be expected to apply in relation to the new requirement.

  3.6  However, our chief concern was to discover whether or not the Minister supported the revised wording. He has now told us that he does, and we thank him for the clarification.

  3.7  We shall continue to keep the document under scrutiny until we know more about the progress of negotiations, and the views of NGOs.


8  (21792) 11622/00; see HC 28-v (2000-01), paragraph 8 (7 February 2001). Back


 
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