Member States Face Five Persistent Challenges

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In February, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) published a report outlining its vision of the “Top five migration issues that need urgent action“.

Based on two years of observation, in its recent report the FRA draws attention to: the overly strict management of borders difficulties in accessing the asylum procedure, inadequate living conditions in reception centres, vulnerability of unaccompanied minors and problems with the placement of migrants in retention. These are the five major challenges facing EU countries.

 1- EU: a territory difficult to access 

Although a significant drop in the number of new asylum seekers in some Member States has been registered, many States have opted for strict management of national borders, many having taken the decision to reintroduce border controls in 2015 and having maintained them throughout 2017[1]. Excesses have also been observed on the Balkan route where there are reports[2] of violence by police and border guards against migrants; echoing Hungary and its southern border, which is littered with electrified barbed wire, heat detectors, cameras and loudspeakers broadcasting (threatening) warnings in several languages. Not to mention the creation of these “migrant hunters”, officers with heavy-handed methods, following training of six months at most. Another disturbing phenomenon is the refusal to allow entry into the country and immediate dismissal (push-backs) without allowing migrants enough time to file an application for international protection. This is the case in Poland, where border guards routinely deny access to the territory for any claimant[3].

2- Degraded reception conditions

Member States shall ensure that material reception conditions provide an adequate standard of living for applicants, which guarantees their subsistence and protects their physical and mental health[4] … this is provided for in the 2013 Reception Conditions Directive. However, much dysfunction is noted. While some shelters are closed (following the decline in the number of asylum seekers), others see their reception capacity heavily exceeded. Overcrowded shelters with critical conditions (we are all familiar with the situation in the Greek hotspots), multiplication of camps in France, Italy and Greece … Informal camps in which conditions are deplorable (limited access to water, sanitation and food). How can one be surprised by incidents that have occurred in such a situation? However, the report does highlight “positive trends” regarding the identification and care of vulnerable people in some Member States[5]. These developments are nevertheless offset by the persistence of major problems (lack of trained personnel, lack of identification and specific procedures, violence against women, lack of specialized support for vulnerable people, etc.).  

3- Does the right to seek asylum still exist? 

When a person makes an application for international protection to an authority competent under national law for registering such applications, the registration shall take place no later than three working days after the application is made[6]. To give just one example, in France, in some departments, asylum seekers had to wait two months for their appointment at the Prefecture, leaving them without a registration certificate and without financial resources (the State allowance following the registration of the application). As asylum procedures are becoming increasingly restrictive at border / transit areas, many people have waited several months in Serbia before being admitted to Hungary. As for the duration of the asylum procedure (six months maximum in the first instance according to the European texts), and in view of the large number of asylum seekers, the time devoted to the examination of each application and the quality of the interviews conducted raises questions. In addition, in several Member States difficulties in accessing legal aid, interpreter services and information are commonplace. The obstacles to filing an asylum application are countless!

 4- Unaccompanied minors at risk in EU countries

Today, although they are less numerous in some Member States, the level of protection for unaccompanied minors has not improved. In most Member States, the quality of childcare facilities, the appointment of guardians, access to the asylum procedure and barriers to family reunion remain major problems.

Reception – Following the decline in the number of unaccompanied minors, many reception centres have closed in Austria, Denmark, Finland … the children present were then relocated to new centres, new schools, which doesn’t help their integration. In states where unaccompanied minors continue to arrive every day, reception capacities are often exceeded, leaving these minors in unacceptable living conditions, sleeping on the streets, or accommodated in adult centres (whereas they should have specific accommodation) … The press has largely covered this situation in Paris, for example. Most unaccompanied minors have limited access to education. In Germany, only 29% of minors concerned regularly attend school classes[7].

Guardians – The appointment of an independent and qualified (trained) guardian is an essential element of the protection afforded to an unaccompanied minor. Unfortunately, many Member States fail on this aspect. While in Hungary, only minors under fourteen are assigned a guardian / legal representative, in Greece there is not even a real guardian appointment system! And in Poland, the appointment of a guardian can take up to nine months …

Asylum procedure – In many cases, unaccompanied minors are exposed to practical and legal difficulties. The first of these difficulties lies in the recognition of their age. Indeed, some countries use contested methods (bone test, medical examination, sexual maturity …) to certify or not the age of an individual. Following the conclusions of many experts and MEPs, the FRA recommends using a multidisciplinary method, not limited to a single medical examination, and always bearing in mind that doubt should benefit the person concerned. In state practice, the “benefit of doubt as to the age of the alleged juvenile” does not seem to prevail, and many of the alleged juveniles are simply treated as adults[8].

5- Retention: exception or rule?

European legislation provides that the placing of migrants in detention must always be a measure of last resort. It is also stated that no one may be detained solely for the reason of being an applicant for international protection[9].For several months now, and in several Member States, the placement of migrants in detention is becoming more and more systematic. Some Member States do not hesitate to detain minors, sometimes victims of trafficking. In addition to this, there are new problems, each an obstacle to the right to apply for asylum: lack of legal assistance and information (reason for detention, appeal procedure, access to asylum procedure), inadequate conditions and inhuman/degrading treatment, problem of identification of vulnerable migrants (children, victims of trafficking).

 The picture depicted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in his latest report is hardly encouraging … If an international protection seeker makes it into “Fortress Europe”, the game is far from over … he will have to register his request, to be able to benefit from dignified conditions of reception, and … not to be deprived of freedom! And the report talks about five main problems, which says something about the extent of malfunctions. While, at the urging of the European Commission, Member States are preparing to adopt new asylum legislation, they would be well advised to draw on the FRA’s observations. As for parliamentarians who, for their part, judging by published reports, try to defend quality standards, they will doubtless be able to argue on the basis of this report.

To read FRA report ” Migration to the EU: five persistent challenges”, February 2018:

[1] The end of an “Europe without borders”: when the exception becomes the rule, AEDH, 20 October 2017-

[2] Report « Games of violence », MSF, October 2017-

[3] et

[4] Article 17(2) Directive 2013/33/EU laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection

[5] In Italy, training sessions have been organized to better identify asylum seekers who are victims of trafficking.

[6] Article 6(1) Directive 2013/32/EU on common procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection

[7] Germany, Unicef (2017), Kindheit im Wartezustand; FRA, Monthly migration report, April 2017.

[8] France (FRA, Monthly migration report, May 2017) et Hongrie (Hungary, Hungarian Helsinki Committee (2017), A gyerek az gyerek akkor is, ha menekülő, 20 November 2017; FRA, Monthly migration report, December 2017).

[9] Article 8(1) Direction Reception conditions 2013/33/EU