Germany to press for shake-up in EU asylum rules

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Series Details Vol.5, No.2, 14.1.99, p6
Publication Date 14/01/1999
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Date: 14/01/1999

By Gareth Harding

Germany will push for a shake-up in the way EU countries deal with asylum-seekers during its six-month stint at the helm of the Union.

Bonn will outline its plans for new measures to prevent illegal immigrants entering the EU and ensure a more balanced distribution of asylum-seekers at a meeting of the Council of Ministers' justice and home affairs committee, known as K4, next week.

Germany's top priority is to overhaul the EU convention which governs the way governments handle applications for asylum. The Dublin Convention, signed almost a decade ago, states that displaced persons must be dealt with by the first country they enter. This has resulted in Germany receiving a large share of asylum-seekers, sparking a backlash from political parties playing the race card.

While Bonn is not questioning the basic principle underlying the convention, officials say it will push for changes to ensure a "smoother and speedier" transfer of asylum-seekers from one country to another.

It will also press for other member states to accept a 'fairer' share of the burden, especially when there are mass influxes of asylum-seekers from war-torn countries such as former Yugoslavia.

Although moves to reform the system ran into opposition from some member states when the idea was first raised by the Austrian presidency last autumn, Germany believes that the argument is moving in its direction. "The number of countries in favour of burden-sharing is growing as more states are affected by mass influxes," said one diplomat.

However, campaigners warn against shunting displaced persons from country to country. "Governments mainly focus on getting the number of asylum-seekers down, but this can only be a fair objective if human rights violations decrease," said Friso-Roscam Abbing of the European Council for Refugees and Exiles.

The Council of Ministers' newly formed high-level working group on asylum and immigration is currently examining the pressures which force migrants to leave their home countries. Work is also continuing on creating an automated system for identifying the fingerprints of asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants. But the Eurodac Convention, which is designed to prevent asylum seekers from 'shopping around' for a host country, will almost certainly not be agreed in the next six months because of divisions between member states.

Changes to the EU's policy-making structure in the justice and home affairs field agreed under the terms of the Amsterdam Treaty, which is due to enter into force by early summer, are also likely to delay progress as Germany is reluctant to propose new measures if their legal base might have to be changed later.

Bonn is, however, pushing for a European Commission paper on the harmonisation of asylum policy.

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