European Union: Asylum - Amnesty International warns that EU proposals could lead to 'refugees in orbit'

The warning came in an open letter to the Irish EU Presidency, as EU Justice and Home Affairs ministers discuss sending asylum seekers to 'safe third countries' this week (JHA Council, Dublin, Thursday 22 to Friday 23 January 2004).

Amnesty International is concerned that common EU standards may be agreed which breach international refugee and human rights law, shifting responsibility to countries outside the EU without proper safeguards.

In particular, Amnesty International is deeply concerned by attempts to weaken the safeguards regarding the refugee's actual link with a third State, which means a person could be sent to a third country in which he or she has never lived: potentially leaving them stranded 'in orbit'.

Amnesty International UK Refugee Programme Director Jan Shaw said:

'Unless we are careful, 'safe third country' rules could lead to a convoy of unwanted refugees being passed from country to country, each state washing its hands of any responsibility towards them. This would be an utterly shameful situation.

'Governments must remember that they are not discussing figures or burdens on Thursday, but people who have fled their homes in fear of persecution.'

Amnesty International is also concerned that EU Member States could endorse a 'neighbouring safe third country' concept - essentially an automatic burden-shifting system - based on the assumption that the level of refugee protection available in countries neighbouring the EU is comparable, if not equivalent to standards in force within the EU.

'Given the shortcomings of asylum systems in some neighbouring countries, including Romania and Bulgaria, it is seriously questionable to assume that refugee protection there is comparable to the EU,' Dick Oosting, Director of Amnesty International's EU Office said in an open letter to the Irish EU Presidency.

Amnesty International reiterates its call for a cautious implementation of the 'safe third country' concept incorporating international legal safeguards. Amnesty International's analysis paper cites recent legal rulings regarding France, Belgium, Sweden and Estonia in relation to safeguards which should be adopted by EU countries.

Further information

Relevant documents available on

Amnesty International Open Letter to the Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform

Aide-Memoire: Amnesty International Comments on Articles 28 and 28A of the Commission's Amended Proposal for a Council Directive on Minimum Standards for Granting and Withdrawing Refugee Status

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