Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twenty-Fifth and Twenty-Sixth Report


RECEPTION OF ASYLUM APPLICANTS



(23360)
— 


Draft Directive laying down minimum standards on the reception of applicants for asylum in Member States.


Legal base:Article 63 EC; consultation; unanimity
Department:Home Office
Basis of consideration: Minister's letter of 22 April 2002
Previous Committee Report: HC 152-xxiv (2001-02), paragraph 3 (17 April 2002)
To be discussed in Council: 25/26 April 2002
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Not cleared; further information requested



Background

  7.1  The aim of the proposal is to harmonise the assistance granted to asylum seekers while their applications are being considered, and to ensure that applicants have "a dignified standard of living" (paragraph 6 of the preamble). It is one of a number of measures intended to set minimum standards in relation to asylum seekers as a first step towards establishing a common procedure and a uniform status for those granted asylum in any Member State.

  7.2  When we considered the proposal last week, we raised a number of questions with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office (Angela Eagle).

The Minister's letter

  7.3  The Minister has responded promptly. She begins by apologising that we have not been able to scrutinise an amended official text of the draft Directive. She explains that a further amended text was issued on 19 April, and has been deposited. An Explanatory Memorandum will be produced shortly.

  7.4  The Minister then addresses our questions. We had asked why the watering down of the Article about vocational training was considered preferable to its deletion, and whether there was any scope for its renegotiation. The Minister replies:

    "It became apparent during the course of the negotiations that agreement could not be reached on Article 12 if it remained obligatory and, given that the draft Directive is subject to unanimity, this would ultimately block agreement to the entire Reception Directive. Many delegations have made compromises in order to be able to accept the text as it now stands. I understand the Committee's concerns regarding the 'watering down' of this Article, but maintain that this is preferable to deletion. Many Member States already offer vocational training to asylum seekers and I consider that the new wording of this Article will not change this. I would also like to suggest to the Committee that some of the 'watering down' of this Article is positive. There is no longer an obligation to withdraw access to vocational training if an asylum applicant has behaved in a negative manner. Furthermore, I welcome the principle of not making access to the labour market a pre-requisite for access to vocational training. All Member States are committed to shortening their asylum consideration process and many applicants will not be able to work as they will receive a first decision before they would be granted access to the labour market. It is beneficial to the applicant if he or she can have access to vocational training as early as possible because it will enable him or her to learn important skills. Should the application succeed, then this will aid integration into the host country and if unsuccessful the applicant may be able to take back useful new skills on return to his or her country of origin."

  7.5  We expressed concern that the very general nature of some of the new wording could allow Member States to impose unduly restrictive conditions, giving as an example the addition of "public interest" to the grounds on which freedom of movement within the host Member State may be restricted. We also had concerns about whether detention for the purpose of examining asylum applications (expressly prohibited under the old 7.2) would be permissible under the new wording of that Article. We asked the Minister whether she was content that the draft Directive set no minimum standard concerning the grounds for detaining asylum seekers.

  7.6  In response, the Minister tells us:

    "I understand that negotiations have progressed even further in the past week and there is no longer a reference to public interest in Article 7.1. The reference does remain in Article 7.2; however, this is in respect of residence not detention. Although situations where an applicant is detained are envisaged by this draft Directive, there was general agreement that it should not prescribe the grounds on which Member States may detain asylum applicants as this will be covered by the proposed Procedures Directive[23]. Detention for the purpose of examining asylum applications is clearly envisaged under the new Article 7.2 and a new Article 7.3 says that Member States may confine an applicant, if need be, to a particular place in accordance with their national law. The draft Directive sets no minimum standard concerning the grounds for detaining asylum seekers."

  7.7  We asked the Minister for more explanation about her opposition to Article 16.5 which forbids the reduction of food and housing (as well as healthcare) following negative behaviour. We did not understand how the UK was able to honour its international obligations if it allowed food and housing support to be withdrawn, even if only in certain circumstances. The Minister tells us:

    "Article 16.5 has now been deleted from the text of the proposed Reception Directive and is therefore no longer a concern to the Government. It is our view that Member States should be able to withdraw support from those who abuse our systems; Article 16(5) effectively prevented us from doing that and would have undermined the UK's support policies. Member States remain bound by wider international obligations in this area."

  7.8  Finally, the Minister tells us that there has been some progress in the negotiations since her last Explanatory Memorandum, but, with the exception of the deletions she has reported to us, no significant changes to the text which, in her view, now satisfies the UK's needs.

Conclusion

  7.9  We thank the Minister for responding so promptly. While we still regret the lack of a minimum standard with regard to vocational training, we accept that there are some positive aspects to the new Article.

  7.10  It is becoming apparent that one way of achieving unanimity on a proposal like this is to avoid specific prohibitions. This has happened in the two areas about which we still have serious concerns: the use of detention, and the potential to withdraw support, following negative behaviour. With regard to the first, the Minister's answer makes it clear that not only has the prohibition of using detention for the purpose of examining asylum applications been deleted, but detention for this purpose is "clearly envisaged" in the new Article.

  7.11  With regard to the deletion of Article 16.5, our concerns about the UK's position remain. The Minister does not explain how the UK is able to honour its international obligations if it allows food and housing support to be withdrawn, even if only in certain circumstances. We cannot share her satisfaction that the prohibition has been deleted and we repeat our request for an explanation of the UK's position.

  7.12  In our view, neither of these deletions improves the draft Directive.

  7.13  We leave the document uncleared while we await the Explanatory Memorandum on the new text. We ask the Minister to include the explanation we have requested in that Explanatory Memorandum.



23   (21792) 11622/00; see HC 28-v (2000-01), paragraph 8 (7 February 2001). Back


 
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