Auteur: Sharon Spiteri
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The UN has warned that EU plans for common rules on asylum seekers could result in the new member states being overwhelmed by applications.
Speaking on Thursday at an informal meeting of EU justice ministers in Dublin, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers warned "If we are not careful, we risk overwhelming fragile and under-resourced asylum systems in the new EU member states".
"If that happens then Europe's new harmonised legislation may simply create a new set of problems", said Mr Lubbers before the meeting.
Under current EU legislation, any asylum seeker can be sent back to the first EU state they entered - after enlargement this is likely to be the new member states which will mainly make up the EU's eastern border.
New UN proposals
Mr Lubbers presented ministers with a set of proposals to cope with the looming problems on asylum.
In a seven-page document, the High Commissioner proposed the establishment of EU reception centres where the claims of certain categories of asylum seekers can be processed by experienced teams of asylum assessors drawn from across the EU.
He also proposed the establishment of an EU Asylum Agency to manage the new registration and processing systems and relieve the burden on individual states, as well as ensure that the responsibility for recognised refugees is shared by all EU states.
The Irish EU Presidency reacted coolly these proposals. Irish Justice Minister Micheal McDowell said "I understand his point of view...but there is a difference of emphasis".
Safe third countries
Ministers, however, expressed confidence that common EU rules on asylum will be achieved by the 1 May deadline.
Discussions have been stalled since last November over the proposal to set up a list of "safe" third countries to which asylum seekers seeking refuge in the EU could be sent.
At the time, the UN was among those expressing concern that under the EU proposals asylum seekers could end up in a country where they have never been or which does not provide sufficient protection for refugees.
At Thursday's meeting, Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino stressed that asylum seekers should only be sent to those third countries with which they have possible links such as a family connection, previous stays or where there are cultural and language links.
He also said that the countries to which asylum seekers are sent should have equivalent standards for refugee protection as that of the EU.
An outstanding issue, though, remains that of the right of appeal for an applicant, which as the text currently stands, would allow the person to be deported before asylum appeals have been carried out.