Secondary movements: necessary result of a flawed system

04 June 2018

Related: Belgium, Protection
Two Syrian refugees try to maintain a sense of normalcy by taking their young boy for a stroll in the makeshift camp near Idomeni, Greece. (Photo: UNHCR).

Ask any politician in Europe what a priority in the reform of the EU’s asylum system should be, and they will probably talk about preventing ‘secondary movements’, i.e. preventing asylum seekers and refugees from travelling between several EU countries after first arriving to EU territory.

For the EU it is a matter of efficiency: in a common system a person’s asylum application should be fully processed by one Member State, to avoid double work. This principle lies at the core of the Dublin Regulation, the piece of EU law establishing the rules to determine the EU Member State responsible for examining a person’s asylum application. If people keep moving between EU countries, they put at risk the well-functioning of this system.

“The system, however, is intrinsically flawed,” says JRS Europe policy and advocacy officer, Claudia Bonamini, “as it is based on the wrong assumption that each EU Member State guarantees the same level of protection and reception conditions to all asylum seekers. JRS Europe’s experience shows that moving between EU countries is often necessary for asylum seekers and refugees to find real protection in Europe.”

Jawan: trying to reunite with his family

Jawan, an Afghan asylum seeker, had travelled from Kabul to Pakistan, then to Dubai, and then to Malta by airplane. He stayed there for two days before flying to Austria, where he had relatives. All was fine until his second interview with the Austrian authorities. “They told me that I would be sent back to Malta because that is where I first entered Europe,” he explained to JRS.

The presence of family members in the EU is the first criteria in the Dublin Regulation that Member State authorities must consider when determining which country is responsible for an asylum seeker’s application. However, the definition of family is very strict and only applies to one’s spouse and children under 18. The presence other relatives, such as in the case of Jawan, is not considered. Member States can always decide to bring other relatives together, but in practice, they seldom do it.

“The little consideration of the Dublin Regulation for family ties is one of the most common reasons behind secondary movements,” says Bonamini, “We have seen that people will make every effort to be with their families, even if there are several EU Member States away from where they are. If EU governments spend more effort at reuniting families, then people may find that they can settle in one EU country, provided that the asylum procedure and living conditions are up to standard,” she argues.

Sayid: looking for humane reception conditions and integration opportunities

Sayid is a Syrian who had been in Malta for over a year when JRS spoke to him. He fled the Syrian war looking for protection in Europe. Sayid had first arrived in Greece but left because of the terrible conditions for refugees. After six months in Germany, he left for Malta.

“I thought that in Malta it would be easier to get a job and speak the language,” explains Sayid. “I also had people there that I already knew.” What Sayid did not know was that Germany had granted him refugee status after he left. On this basis, Malta decided to return him to Germany in application of the Dublin Regulation.

JRS has met many people like Sayid who move from one EU country to another because the first one they arrived to had inhumane reception conditions, or the asylum procedure was inaccessible. “This is notoriously the case in Greece” says Bonamini “So it should not surprise that Sayid judged that he would have a better chance to find protection in Germany”.

Moreover, having a protection status is not enough on its own. As with others, Sayid needed to find a place to live where he could easily integrate, find a job, share a common language, and be with people of his community. The current Dublin Regulation, however, has no room for taking into consideration asylum seekers’ opinions and preferences on such matters.

Sayid’s situation illustrates also another important paradox in the EU asylum system. Unlike a negative decision on an asylum application, the recognition of a protection status is not valid throughout the EU. The fact that Sayid was recognised as a refugee in Germany, only entitled him to reside there. The Dublin Regulation does therefore not only determine where your application will be processed, but ultimately also where you will have to settle if you are recognized as refugee. This has a crucial impact on a refugee’s path to integration.

Need for a radical policy change

Secondary movements are undesirable, both for asylum seekers, as they further extend their already long journeys to protection, and for Member States, as they lead to double work and inefficiency. The only way to truly prevent them, is to acknowledge they are a necessary result of a flawed system and to start addressing the underling flaws.

JRS Europe advocates for a radical policy change aimed first of all at guaranteeing dignified reception conditions and swift and fair asylum procedures for all asylum seekers everywhere in the EU. The Dublin system must be reformed to make sure asylum seeker’s preferences are taken into consideration when deciding which Member State is responsible for each single application.