RECEPTION OF ASYLUM APPLICANTS IN MEMBER
Draft Directive laying down minimum standards on the reception of applicants for asylum in Member States.
||Article 63 EC; consultation; unanimity
||3 April 2001|
|Forwarded to the Council:
||18 May 2001|
|Deposited in Parliament:
||20 June 2001|
|Basis of consideration:
||EM of 22 June 2001
|Previous Committee Report:
|To be discussed in Council:
||No date set|
||Not cleared; further information requested
22.1 This 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. We have already
considered the Draft Directive on minimum standards in asylum
the other measures in preparation are concerned with subsidiary
protection, the replacement of the Dublin Convention, and the
status of refugees.
22.2 As the proposal's legal base falls within
Title IV of the EC Treaty, the UK has three months from its formal
publication to decide whether to opt in to the measure (in accordance
with the provisions in the Protocol on the position of the United
Kingdom and Ireland annexed to the EC Treaty and the Treaty on
22.3 Our sister Committee in the House of Lords,
which plans to undertake a short inquiry into the document, has
received written comments from a number of organisations, which
welcome the proposal in principle but identify shortcomings in
22.4 We understand that the Belgian Presidency
accords high priority to this proposal, and that negotiations
may proceed speedily.
22.5 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).
The proposal defines an asylum application as one made under the
Geneva Convention, but allows Member States to apply the measure
22.6 The draft Directive provides minimum standards
to be applied in relation to a number of reception conditions.
Member States are required to take the appropriate measures to
maintain the unity of asylum seeker families. They are required
to provide housing (which may be in one or a combination of forms)
and access to health and psychological care. Minors who are applicants,
or the children of applicants, must have access to the education
system under the same conditions as nationals. Access to the labour
market and to training (for applicants and accompanying family
members) must be given no later than six months after the lodging
of the asylum application. "Material reception conditions"
(including housing, food and clothing) may be provided in kind,
or in the form of financial allowances or vouchers.
22.7 Although the draft Directive sets out the
principle of free movement within the territory of the host State,
there is provision for Member States to limit this free movement
in some circumstances. Member States are not permitted to hold
applicants in detention "for the sole reason that their applications
for asylum need to be examined" (Article 7 (2)).
22.8 The draft Directive proposes a graduated
approach to reception conditions, as stated in paragraphs 8 and
9 of the preamble:
"The living conditions
of applicants for asylum should in all cases be dignified, but
they should be improved when applications are considered admissible
and not manifestly unfounded.
"The number and quality of reception conditions
should be increased in relation to long lasting procedures in
so far [as] the length of the procedure is not caused by negative
behaviour by applicants for asylum."
22.9 In cases of "negative behaviour"
(non-compliance of various kinds) reception conditions can be
reduced or withdrawn.
The Government's view
22.10 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Europe,
Community and Race Equality (Ms Angela Eagle) considers that the
proposal, which inevitably proposes a number of compromises in
areas where the practices of Member States differ widely, will
provide a good basis for discussion. She explains that the measure
gives Member States a degree of discretion in how the minimum
standards are to be achieved, saying:
"For example, the proposal
does not attempt to impose a formula for the level of financial
assistance to be given to asylum seekers. Rather, it provides
an obligation that financial assistance must be sufficient to
avoid asylum seekers falling into poverty. Moreover, Member States
would be able to decide for themselves whether this assistance
would be provided by cash payments, benefits in kind or vouchers."
22.11 The Minister continues:
"The Government hopes
that the draft Directive will act as a catalyst to those Member
States with less-developed reception arrangements to build upon
and improve existing conditions. This would help to ensure that
asylum seekers could expect similar standards of treatment, regardless
of the Member State in which the application was being considered.
"The Government considers that reception conditions
in the UK are broadly at or above the minimum standards proposed
in the draft Directive. We do not therefore expect to need to
make significant changes to our reception procedures in order
to comply with the Directive, once it has been adopted.
"Our initial analysis is that the key area of
divergence with current UK policy is likely to be in the area
of access to the labour market. In particular, the UK concession
usually allows access to the labour market in cases where an initial
decision has not been reached within six months. The Directive
appears to propose that access should be granted whenever an applicant
has not exhausted, within six months, all the possible remedies
provided by the Directive on asylum procedures. In addition, the
UK concession applies only to principal applicants, whereas the
Directive proposes to grant access to accompanying family members
as well. We expect these issues to be the subject of detailed
discussions in the Council working groups."
22.12 We agree with the Minister that this
proposal provides a good basis for discussion. It cannot have
been easy to draft. Any set of minimum standards runs the risk
of becoming the norm; it is therefore important that the standards
are not set too low. Moreover, if there is too much discretion
about how the standards are implemented, harmonisation will not
really be achieved.
22.13 We wish to see be kept informed about
the progress of negotiations on this proposal, and about
the Government's decision over whether to opt in to it. Meanwhile,
we ask the Minister:
- whether she can assure us that, where UK standards
are currently higher than those proposed (as in access to education
and health care, for example), there will be no move to lower
- whether there are areas (such as access to
education and health care) where she considers that the minimum
standards have been set at too low a level, and, if so, whether
the UK will press for them to be raised;
- whether there are areas, in addition to access
to the labour market, where provisions in the draft Directive
diverge significantly from current UK policy and practice.
- whether she has concerns about the graduated
approach to reception conditions and the potential for reception
conditions to be reduced or withdrawn as a result of negative
22.14 We shall keep the document under scrutiny
until we have the Minister's response.
40 (21947) 13119/00; see HC 28-viii (2000-01), paragraph
3 (14 March 2001). Back