Blocked humanity

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Red Cross reception center is temporary hub for refugees arriving in Italy [Shutterstock]

The Dublin regulation, allocating asylum claims to the first port of call on a migrant’s journey, is unfit for purpose. The European Parliament has come to a shared position that guarantees fair treatment of refugees and shared responsibility in the EU. Now it’s up to member states to do their share, writes Cornelia Ernst.

Dr. Cornelia Ernst is an MEP for the German party DIE LINKE since 2009. She is a spokesperson for her parliamentary delegation and a member of the LIBE committee of the European Parliament. In preparing the new Dublin reform, Ernst was the shadow rapporteur for the left-wing group in the European Parliament GUE/NGL.

Thirty-seven years ago, twelve EU member states, including Germany, signed a treaty under international law to regulate which EU member state would be responsible for examining an asylum application. The agreement was named after the place of its signature, Dublin.

The rules entered into force in 1997 and since then, the EU member state that was first entered by the applicant has been responsible for reviewing and accepting the asylum claim. It was a practical solution for members in northwestern Europe because the lion’s share of responsibility was assigned to a few states on the EU’s external borders. Countries like Germany, Poland or Austria came out of it well.

But for nearly a decade, and despite two attempts for reforms, this agreement has proved to be an agreement for ‘migration-free times’, that is, completely inadequate. At least since 2015, the unsuitability of this unfair rule is no longer acceptable.

The governments of the member states, especially Chancellor Angela Merkel, managed to defuse the statistics for the moment with the EU-Turkey-Deal, but not much has changed regarding the suffering of individuals: it has simply been outsourced.

On the one hand to Turkey, but on the other hand to the affected member states in the south of the EU, especially Italy and ironically Greece, which was already left alone in the banking and euro crisis.

Systematic anti-solidarity

To put an end to solidarity lacking Dublin ruling, we worked together with the Social Democrats and the Greens to draft a reform text in the EP Committee of Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), which should not be based on building the ‘fortress of Northwestern Europe’.

After months of negotiations and tough arguments with the other groups, our text got the necessary majority and we were able to delete the core message of the previous Dublin regulations, the very first-entry principle.

Instead, the member state of first entry should only check certain criteria. It should determine whether the persons concerned already have certain links or specific reference points to a certain member state. This includes, for example, language skills, study visits, professional experience and above all: family connections.

If one of these criteria is met, the persons will be sent directly to the member state concerned. If, on the other hand, none of the established criteria is met, a distribution mechanism will be used to enable asylum seekers to choose between the four member states which have so far received the smallest share in proportion to their size.

Firstly, this should prevent certain member states from being left alone and therefore unable to cope with the challenges of asylum applications. Secondly, the asylum seekers should finally be guaranteed a fair and appropriate treatment, which is why they should in future be entitled to a lawyer with the appropriate language skills. Instead of letting people run into camps and prisons at the external borders, distribution to other member states should happen right away. These identified states are then responsible for the further process of the asylum application.

The real obstacles

But as tough as the months of wrestling with the other groups were, the biggest hurdle for a fairer system is yet to come: in particular, those who were already responsible for the failure of the previous Dublin Regulations I-III – the national governments in the Council of the Member States.

Many governments in Northwestern and Eastern Europe would most likely prefer to continue to benefit from this unsolid and ineffective system of the previous forms.

However, the European Parliament has now adopted a completely different position by allowing us to reach a cross-group agreement on a mechanism based on intra-European solidarity. A new mechanism for distributing refugee accommodation would also free us from the moral downward spiral of anti-migration deals with states such as Turkey under Erdoğan or the militia and clan area of the former Libya.

Without a functioning asylum system at EU level, based on solidarity between the member states, the human and political challenges that we will face in the coming years and decades cannot be imagined. With our reform text, we as the European Parliament have made an essential proposal on how to fundamentally change the catastrophically failed previous system.

Now it is up to the member states to finally give up their stalemate attitude, to find a common position and to enter into negotiations with us. People have been waiting already far too long.