ECRE and UNHCR in a joint collaboration assess the ‘future of asylum in Europe’

On October 23 and 24, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) in a joint collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) held its annual conference on the topic of ‘The Future of Asylum in Europe: Assessing and Capitalising on Changes at EU Level’. Keynote speakers agreed that refugees and migrants should be more involved in EU policy-making, as their stories should be told. Speakers also stated that disembarkation should be on EU soil, since the deal with Libya contravenes all principles of human rights. The future of asylum in Europe was discussed and views on the EU agenda brought forward.

Future of asylum in Europe?
One key points in many of the workshops was the European Union (EU)’s response to accepting refugees and migrants. Speakers agreed that more European countries must get involved in taking in refugees as well as to let people disembark in Europe. The representative from UNHCR, Sophie Magennis, said that disembarkation should be carried out in Europe and referred to the arrangement with ‘safe third countries’ as “an easy answer”. This was agreed upon by Catherine Wool, Director of ECRE, who further argued that “there should be asylum in Europe” and brought forward that the EU must move away from externalising and rejecting people coming to Europe.

The speakers sought more active participation from other EU member states and argued for changing the Dublin Regulation, which obligates asylum seekers to apply in the first country of entry, creating unequal pressure on border states. Wool said that especially Northern Europe must learn to “understand the unfairness in the Dublin Regulation”, as many Southern-European countries are pressured by this.

However, for speaker and Director of Stichting Lemat, Milka Yemane, the issue lies not with the future of asylum in Europe, but with the current asylum situation. She referred to the situations in both Greece and Libya and asked people to give attention to the “situation going on right now” and not the future.

Perception of refugees and migrants
Speaker Hala Akari from the Swedish Syrian Alliance, claimed that the problem in Europe lies with the perception of migrants and refugees. According to her, refugees and migrants are in many ways considered to be “a problem and not an opportunity”, and she therefore states that the approach to resettlement should be changed. She believes that refugees should be settled based on where they have the opportunity to contribute the most and should be given a working permit quickly. This was elaborated upon by other speakers who hope that refugees will be more included in EU decision-making and that their stories will influence asylum processes in the future.

Legality of using Libyan Coastguard
EU law remained a key topic throughout the conference, where UNHCR’s Magennis emphasised that the EU must adhere to its own Charter on Fundamental Rights. However, the speakers stated that the EU neglects these rights when cooperating with the Libyan Coastguard, questioning the legality of this arrangement. A spokesperson from PRO ASYL, Karl Kopp, stated that the “cooperation with the Libyan Coastguard is a crime” and instead requested a system of safe harbours. This was also pointed out by Director Yemane, who claimed that the EU does not adhere to EU law when working with a country that “does not respect human rights.”

Moving forward?
As a concluding remark of the conference, speakers in the last panel debate agreed that more involvement of refugees in policy-making is essential for changing asylum in the EU, because their stories are worth considering.

At the very end of the conference, a person from the audience stood up and asked the rest of the audience to sing along to a song, he had written with the following chorus:

“Solidarity today
Solidary tomorrow
Solidarity forever
This is humanity”