Access to protection

People who come to Europe for protection must be able to do so with as little hinderance as possible. Sadly, in reality this is not the case. Asylum seekers and other forcibly displaced persons who try to get to Europe face numerous obstacles, many of which are life threatening. 

JRS continues to advocated for more safe and legal ways for people to reach safety.

Forced migrants from Eritrea, Somalia and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa have little other choice than to traverse the open desert. Some do this on their own, while many others rely on human smugglers. Either way there is danger along the route: bandits, malicious border guards as well as unbearable temperatures and the lack of water. Many people have died along the way.

Survivors who reach the coasts of northern Africa -- in Morocco, Algeria, Libya -- face the impenetrable blue expanse of the Mediterranean Sea. Refugees end up staying in such countries for years because they can go no further, unable to legally cross the border into Europe. Refugee protection is scarce in North Africa. Refugees are vulnerable to racist attacks and late-night deportations to the desert. Eventually, many risk crossing the sea by boat -- those who survive the journey often end up in Italy or Malta, where they detained.

The southern European border is not the only place where refugees run into danger. The eastern borders of the EU are tightly closed as well, forcing refugees to take routes where they are at risk of interception and injury. In recent years, thousands have crossed into Greece via the country's narrow border with Turkey at the Evros river. People who have taken this route have come as far as Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. They too are likely to be detained once they arrive to Europe.

Click on the tabs below to learn more about JRS Europe's advocacy priorities and other main concerns with access to protection in Europe.

  • Frontex
  • Main concerns
  • Advocacy
Frontex: the EU border agency

Established in 2004, Frontex is an EU agency that coordinates European border security using personnel, equipment and funds from the member states. A Frontex patrol boat or land border vehicle is often the first point of contact for refugees coming to Europe.

But coming into contact with Frontex personnel does not necessarily mean safety. People's protection needs are not always recognised, because Frontex staff may not be suitably trained enough to actually identify refugees. Refugees can be turned away at the border without having the chance to articulate their need for protection.

Since Frontex came into force, it has been very difficult for NGOs and even politicans to monitor what Frontex actually does during their border operations. Much is unknown about the migrants they intercept and whether or not they have protection needs. There must be no obstacles for people who come to Europe for protection. But we and others worry that Frontex may indeed be the biggest obstacle.

For years, we and our partners have advocated for Frontex incorporate a focus on human rights into its mission. In 2011, there was success: the EU adopted a new law governing Frontex requiring it to hire a Fundamental Rights Officer, and to organise a Consultative Forum on Fundamental Rights. This has been a welcome step forward.

In October 2012, the forum held its first meeting. JRS Europe currently serves as its co-chair. Membership is small, but varied. The forum's main task is to develop practical standards and mechanisms to guarantee the rights of migrants at Europe's borders. As co-chair, we strive to ensure that the forum becomes an effective and sustainable instrument for protection human rights.
Main concerns

Inability to access asylum procedures in Europe
During 2010 asylum applications in Italy and Malta reduced by 94% and 53%, respectively. These steep reductions had a lot more to do with tougher border measures than a lessened need for international protection. Between January 2004 and December 2008, for example, Maltese asylum procedures positively recognised approximately 55% of asylum applicants – most of whom came from Somalia and Eritrea. Italian push-backs of migrant boats in the Mediterranean, done without properly assessing refugee protection needs, brought these numbers down to a trickle.

No democratic control at the borders
Since its inception, Frontex has carried out its work with little transparency and accountability. Civil society organisations, and even European Parliamentarians, have struggled to monitor Frontex return operations, and to determine whether or not the EU agency appropriately assesses international protection needs. We are particularly concerned that refugees are being returned to countries where they run a real risk of human rights abuse. Frontex’s budget and resource capacities have continued to rise, without any real guarantees to ensure that its operations abide by international human rights standards, and respect the right of an individual to seek asylum.

Migrants left stranded in countries that do not protect human rights
A major consequence of Europe's impenetrable borders is that migrants are left stranded in countries that do not abide by international human rights standards. A notorious example has been Spain’s relations with Morocco. JRS researchers have met migrants living in Morocco who have been thwarted in their attempt to find protection in Europe. In Morocco they live destitute due to a total lack of state support. In addition, Morocco has no refugee protection legislation in place. And our research in Algeria has revealed large groups of migrants living in the open desert, amid rocks and caves, because their identification would mean instant detention and deportation.

In Ukraine, the authorities hardly ever grant refugee protection to those who need it. Since 1993 only 5.500 have been given refugee status. Meanwhile, the EU has established a readmission agreement with Ukraine to automatically return migrants intercepted at the eastern borders. Ukraine also receives large amounts of EU funds that are used to build detention centres and strengthen border security, but little of these funds are used to actually help the forcibly displaced.
EU capacity building funds come with little to no oversight
Ukraine has received millions of euros to improve its migration capacities and build detention centres. But this funding has not been given proper oversight. Physical structures have been built, often to a high standard, but there has been little follow-up to ensure that Ukraine can maintain its new facilities, staff requirements and protection obligations. In our latest research we learned that detainees in Ukraine often go without food because the authorities simply cannot afford to feed them. Detainees must rely on individual generosity to get fed – no way to run a migration policy.

What we advocate for

Improved access to asylum procedures in the EU's territory
Anyone who wishes to submit an application for international protection on EU territory should be able to do so in a safe, reliable and open manner. Asylum seekers should not be pushed back to countries from which they migrated, and especially not be sent back to countries where they may face persecution. Persons intercepted at sea should be brought to an EU member state where they can submit an asylum application and obtain access to care.

Greater accountability and public oversight of Frontex operations
The European Parliament must be able to regularly monitor Frontex operations and make inquiries as necessary, especially as regards to how it uses public funds and the extent to which the agency protects and upholds human rights standards. Frontex should improve the transparency of its missions, capacities, and resources, in particular making clear how they deal with asylum seekers intercepted at sea or at land borders.

Prioritise refugee and human rights protection in relation with third countries
The EU and the member states should always urge third countries it deals with to uphold basic human rights standards, access to asylum procedures and protection for refugees. Migrants, asylum seekers and refugees should not be used as bargaining chips in bilateral relations. National refugee legislation should be implemented in law and practice, and refugee and human rights treaty obligations should be adhered to. Civil society actors, independent human rights monitors and organisations such as UNHCR should be allowed to assist refugees and advocate for their cause.

Regular evaluations of EU migration and refugee funding to third countries
EU capacity building funds given to third countries should be regularly monitored and evaluated to ensure that it is being used appropriately, and for the protection of asylum seekers, refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. Funding should go beyond the building of physical structures: it should also be used to train national authorities on all relevant human rights and refugee protection guidelines, ensure continued maintenance of facilities, and on-going care for persons of concern. EU funds should come with clear benchmarks that third countries must achieve, and which are transparent and easily accessible to the public.