The CEAS (Common European Asylum System) reform will foreseeably lead to more suffering, violence and pushbacks at the external borders. The EU does not stop at the imprisonment of children or refugee deals with autocratic states. PRO ASYL analyzes the fatal decisions.

Shortly before the end of the year, on 20 December 2023, the EU agreed on a reform of the CEAS. The political agreement means that a status quo in which violence, neglect, torture, and leaving people to die are commonplace will now be cemented in law.

The last few years have shown a multitude of cruel practices towards people arriving in Europe: They are crammed into camps like Moria, children are separated from their parents, boats are prevented from reaching land safely in the Aegean Sea, people are beaten unconscious at the Croatian border or left to freeze to death at the Polish border. The political agreement that has now been reached continues and even legalizes all of this.

Below we comment on the most important points of the reform that have become public so far.

Fast-track procedures under detention conditions

The EU member states at the external borders are obliged to carry out so-called border procedures for asylum seekers. This means that in the future, a large number of refugees will have to undergo their asylum procedure isolated from the outside world behind barbed wire at the external borders. Initially, 30.000 detention places are to be created across Europe for this purpose.

The asylum fast-track procedures, which take place after an initial “screening” (max. seven days) following arrival, are to be completed within twelve weeks. This can then be followed by a new deportation border procedure, which can also take up to twelve weeks. During this time, the asylum seekers are to be considered as “not having entered the country” (“fiction of non-entry”) and are to be detained in asylum centers at the external borders, presumably similar to detention centers – even though they are de facto on EU territory.

The application of these border procedures is mandatory for three groups of people seeking protection: for people from countries of origin with a Europe-wide protection rate of less than 20 per cent; for people – even unaccompanied minors – who are considered to be a threat to public safety and order; and for people seeking protection who are accused of deceiving the authorities, e.g. because documents have allegedly been destroyed. There are no exceptions for children and their families. The member states can also apply the border procedures to people who have fled via supposedly “safe third countries.”

“Safe third countries”: More deals with autocratic governments

With the European agreement, it was also decided to lower the standards for so-called “safe third countries.” This means that in the future, significantly more non-European third countries can be categorized as “safe” in order to deport refugees to these countries. The Geneva Refugee Convention does not have to apply in the third country, nor does the entire country have to be safe.

People can then be deported to these countries without their actual reasons for fleeing being examined, as their application is rejected as “inadmissible.” This enables EU member states to massively restrict access to asylum procedures and largely withdraw from refugee protection. The EU-Turkey deal served as a blueprint here.

Crisis regulation: legitimizing human rights violations

For years, member states have repeatedly tried to legitimize the human rights violations committed at the EU’s external borders, such as systematic pushbacks, by declaring supposed “states of emergency” (e.g. at the Polish-Belarusian border). With the agreement on a so-called crisis regulation, they are now getting backing from the EU.

In future, it should be possible to lower human rights standards in the event of “crises” (increased numbers of arrivals), “force majeure” (“superior force”) or the “instrumentalisation of migrants.” Border procedures can then be massively expanded – both in terms of their duration and the group of people who must be included in these procedures for their asylum proceedings. There are no exceptions for children or other vulnerable groups.

No effective solidarity mechanism with host countries

As the countries that asylum seekers usually enter first, the external border states are still primarily responsible for carrying out asylum (border) procedures – even though the Dublin system has been considered a failure for years, it is now being tightened up even further.

There is no provision for an effective solidarity mechanism between the EU states: this is because taking in people seeking protection is equated as a solidarity measure with monetary payments, for example for the construction of border fences at the EU’s external borders or projects in third countries that serve to prevent refugees from fleeing. This means that member states that do not want to take in refugees can simply “buy their way out.”

Picture: Anti-CEAS Demonstration in Berlin in November 2023

The fight for human rights continues

The CEAS reform means a further dismantling of human rights of refugees in Europe. Instead of using the treatment of Ukrainian refugees as a blueprint for a humane reception system for people seeking protection in Europe, the CEAS reform is a huge step backwards: it will multiply the suffering of those affected while at the same time massively damage democracy and the rule of law in the EU. But despite all the tightening and the deaths in the Mediterranean, refugees will not be deterred from setting off in the coming years in search of a life in safety.

PRO ASYL will continue to stand by their side in the future. We will document the human rights situation at Europe’s borders and organize legal representation for those seeking protection. Together with those affected, we take legal action against human rights violations up to the highest courts. At the same time, we continue to support organizations in different European countries, such as Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) in Greece, Maldusa in Italy and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Poland. Their persistent work embodies a different Europe, one of solidarity and humanity.

Website:  https://www.proasyl.de/

ECHOES Issue 10, January 2024 – English