Is the dignified reception of all asylum seekers in Europe an illusion?
The recast of the Reception Conditions Directive about to be adopted
On June 14th, after several months of negotiations, the European Council and Parliament reached an informal consensus agreement on the new recast of the Reception Conditions Directive.
Since 2003, the Reception Directive of the European Parliament and Council (amended in 2013) defines minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers across Europe.
Following the migrant “crisis” in 2015, the Commission published a series of texts to reform the Common European Asylum System. These included a proposal for a complete review of the Reception Conditions Directive, but unlike the “procedures” or “qualification” Directives, the Commission has not proposed to transform the Reception Conditions Directive into a Regulation. In regards to the European Commission’s proposal, the European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) welcomes some changes, such as the envisioned harmonisation of reception conditions, the creation of national emergency plans and the reduction in the delay imposed on asylum seekers before they can access the labour market. However, ECRE criticizes some of the Commission’s proposals aimed at reducing secondary movements of people within the Union by requiring them to be in their country of arrival in order to access benefits, by restricting the free movement of applicants and by proposing new justifications for placing them in detention centres.
The informal agreement foresees, in line with the Commission’s proposal, that the time needed to access the labour market following the submission of an application should be cut from nine months to six. Consensus was also reached on access to education: children should have access to the school system no later than two months after arrival. Asylum seekers will also be able to benefit from language classes as soon as their request is registered. Moreover, they should be entitled to both primary and “secondary healthcare”, including mental and reproductive health.
As far as detention is concerned, the European Parliament and Council have reached an agreement to ban detention of minors in prison–detention is to be allowed only in specialised facilities. Moreover, the Directive will allow detention of children only on the ground of maintaining family unity.
Even though the European Council and Parliament eventually reached a consensus, they did not see eye to eye on numerous topics. These include the detention of children, limiting or withdrawing material reception conditions, and geographical limitations. With this last point, the Council, in line with the Commission’s proposal, wished to grant States the option to restrict the movement of asylum seekers to a certain geographic area; the Parliament, however, was concerned that this would pave the way for arbitrary restriction of movement. Finally, as far as withdrawal or reduction of reception conditions in case of secondary movements are concerned, the Council and the Parliament disagreed on their scope. Whereas the Council wanted withdrawal to be effective from the notification of a transfer decision, the Parliament argued that it should apply only after a decision was taken at appeal, had an appeal been lodged. The detailed text of the compromise, including on those last two topics, was not available at the time of writing.
The Reception Conditions Directive being one of several pieces of legislation examined in the framework of the reform of the Common European Asylum System, the European Parliament announced that they would not vote on the compromise text until significant progress had been made on the reform of the Dublin Regulation.