There is a large number of asylum seekers and refugees who are attempting to find a better life in Europe. They are often middle-class, well-educated people fleeing conflict or persecution in their home countries and are looking for refuge because their own countries have become unliveable. After spending their savings and usually risking their lives to reach a ‘safe’ country, they must declare themselves to the authorities and ask for asylum. At this point, they are completely at the mercy of that nation’s asylum process – there is no guarantee they will be permitted to stay.
The EU has attempted to create a uniform approach to handling these claims through the adoption of the common European asylum system. This has established Europe-wide rules on, among other things, which state must examine a particular applicant’s claim – this system is called the Dublin Regulation, and has created much controversy. It requires that the state that first registers an asylum seeker should be the state that deals with the entire of their claim. The objective of this system is sound – it attempts to prevent states avoiding responsibility by passing migrants among each other and stops asylum seekers picking and choosing the most favourable state to apply in. However, it is the opinion of many that the system has major flaws.
Over 200,000 asylum seekers came to Europe through a central or eastern Mediterranean route in 2014; in the majority of cases meaning they travelled to Italy, Greece or Malta. This is a massive number (around half of all applicants) and if these few countries were to process all of those claims, the expense would be colossal. To avoid this, they tend to try and move the migrants on to other EU states by simply ignoring them – that way, it can’t be established that they have responsibility under the Dublin system. However they still receive the largest number of Dublin transfer requests by far – in 2012, Italy received 5000 more requests to take asylum seekers back than any other EU state; merely increasing the burden on these border nations.
Conditions for migrants in the border countries tend to be very poor because of the strain on resources. Asylum seekers arriving there are often aware of this, and so do their best to move without being captured by the authorities – if ‘caught’ and processed they will be trapped there. The conditions in Greece, one of the main border countries, deteriorated so badly that the European Court of Human Rights recently ruled it illegal to transfer asylum seekers there using the Dublin system. Shockingly, there were only around 1000 places in reception centres to house ‘tens of thousands’ of asylum seekers, meaning the vast majority were simply on the street.
The tens of thousands of street-homeless asylum seekers are not just in Greece – Italy has a similar problem. They are in an impossible situation – they are unable to return to their home states because the persecution and war they fled from is ongoing and they cannot leave the state they are in to go somewhere more generous to asylum seekers, because they will simply be returned through the Dublin system. There are stories of people burning their fingertips off as without fingertips they cannot be checked against the EURODAC database which stores fingerprints of asylum seekers, so states can determine when they can transfer an applicant elsewhere.
The Dublin system, although it has a logical rationale, causes many thousands of asylum seekers – people trying to find refuge and a better life – to be trapped in countries they would not likely have chosen to seek asylum in. Many of them end up on the street, because the country they are forced to apply for asylum in simply cannot deal with the number of applicants they are required to deal with. This is a serious problem, though with the current attitude towards immigration in the EU through the rise of far-right parties, it seems a problem that is unlikely to be solved anytime soon.