Reducing rights, reducing the length of stay, reducing the number of people. . . The triptych of measures to limit the “influx” of migrants in the process of generalisation

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Since 1999 and the Amsterdam Treaty, European asylum and migration policies are supposed to be “common”. This means that, in principle, Member States no longer have full national sovereignty over these matters except for entry controls and the issuing of residence permits.

But for almost twenty years now, there have been many forms of resistance to this “communitarisation”: cheap negotiations on draft directives; lack of application of European legislative standards; revisions of national legislation, each time in the sense of a reduction in rights. Family reunification and the right to asylum systematically bear the cost.

The scope of the infringement procedures initiated by the European Commission[1] remain too limited to bring recalcitrant parties back to a common ground: they are too rare, too long and too lightly punitive in scope. We can therefore understand and support the idea that the communitisation of the right of asylum must henceforth pass through a regulatory package that is non-negotiable and directly applicable by the Member States. But it would still be necessary to obtain the joint agreement of the Member States and Parliament on the texts envisaged… which is currently far from being the case, as the pitiful results of the European Council of 28 June testified!

ØØ An arsenal of contagious measures

Denmark was one of the first European countries to take the path of restricting rights.

In January 2016, his Government had decided, inter alia, to confiscate the property of asylum-seekers exceeding the value of 1,340 euros as a contribution to the financing of social security contributions linked to their stay in Denmark. At the same time, the waiting period for implementing family reunification procedures was extended from one to three years for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection; the situation of recognised refugees was made more precarious with the reduction of their residence permit from five to two years.

Those rejected from asylum who could not be returned to their country (so-called “tolerated stay” persons), were forced to spend their nights in ad hoc centres and to clock in twice a day. This measure, sanctioned by the Supreme Court because it was comparable to detention, was finally “adjusted” by eliminating access to care and assistance for those who left the premises.

More recently, the Minister of Immigration Inger Støjberg, judged that her country could take up a proposal from the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti, far-right) and exile rejected asylum seekers – currently held in a former prison in the centre of the country – on one or more of the 300 uninhabited islands off the Danish coast… The outcry raised by this idea does not seem to have moved her…

The Social Democrats, for their part, have launched an initiative that they described as “fair and realistic” (Retfærdig og Realistisk). This would involve, on the one hand, setting an annual immigration quota (resettlement of refugees and family reunification) and, on the other hand, putting an end to spontaneous asylum applications on national territory by setting up reception centres in North Africa or the Middle East. The feasibility of this initiative is being criticised while the idea of externalisation receive little attention… It is worth to note that the 2019 elections are on the political agenda of this country[1].

In summary, the objective for Denmark would be to reduce to the maximum the number of refugees and migrants and limit their stay on the national. This has resulted in Denmark’s withdrawal from the UNHCR-agreement to ensure the annual resettlement of 500 refugees.

During his visit on 12 June, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, stressed that while Denmark makes “an important contribution to humanitarian action in the world, including by supporting people displaced by war, conflict and persecution”, the same approach should be applied at the domestic level[2].

> On the other side of the Öresund, in Sweden, the climate is not better for migrants and refugees, who face xenophobic and threatening speeches from the extreme right-wing organisation “The National Resistance Council”. In 2015, with 156,110 applications leading to 34,470 protection decisions[3], this country was the second land of reception of asylum seekers in the EU. However, today, the rise of populism has negatively impacted the welcoming policies of the country.

Faced with the influx of asylum seekers on its territory in November 2015, the Swedish government decided to re-establish controls at its borders, which had the immediate effect of curbing asylum applications, but also led to tensions with border workers, forced to make daily round trips with Danish neighbour. The scheme was therefore lightened the following year, but not yet abolished.

Entry into Sweden is now very complicated: family reunification is limited to recognised refugees; a quota of 14 000 refugees per year has been introduced (i. e. twice less than in 2017); the residence permit is no longer permanent for beneficiaries of international protection (limited to 3 years for recognised refugees and 13 months for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection); and the detention period has been extended to 12 months when the applicant does not cooperate with the authorities.

In addition to significantly weakened rights, the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA)[4] denounces the slowness of asylum procedures in this country and their dramatic psychological consequences on asylum seekers and particularly on unaccompanied minors: at the end of April 2018, the average duration of procedures was close to one and a half years, even longer for Afghans and Iraqis.

> Since Austria took over the EU Presidency on 1 July, statements by its ministers have emphasize Austria’s intentions to “protect” itself. In fact, it was as early as April 2016 that national legislation underwent a shift:

– limitation of residence permits to three years for recognised refugees and one year renewable every two years for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection

– systematic review of the situation in the country of origin which could lead to the termination of protection if the situation is said to be stable in that country (in short, a foretaste of the reform proposed by the Commission at European level)

– introduction of an accelerated procedure based on the concept of safe third countries for border applications

– lodging applications in border centres where applicants can be held for up to 120 hours, the time it takes to process the application under the accelerated procedure

– the modalities of appeal against return orders exist but can only be implemented once the return has actually been organised

– lengthening the period of detention of rejected asylum seekers in the return procedure to 6 months for adults (compared to 4 previously) and 3 months for minors under 14 years of age (compared to 2 months before); and in exceptional cases detention may be extended to 18 months

– restrictions on family reunification: beneficiaries of subsidiary protection may only apply for it after three years on Austrian territory; recognised refugees must apply for reunification within three months of being granted international protection by the Austrian authorities; after this period they must comply with additional conditions: sufficient income, sickness insurance and stable housing.

Moreover, at the end of the last elections, Parliament passed a so-called “state of migration emergency” law in the event of an influx of refugees. The two-year renewable text provides for simple measures: re-establishing border controls, systematically carrying out identity checks and increasing the capacity of the Austrian police to carry out these missions. All of this is accompanied by the prospect of direct refoulement of arrivals as soon as the State services are deemed to be “overtaken” by the number of arrivals.

In 2018, the right-extreme coalition introduced a new bill inspired by the measures already in place in Austria’s neighbours: confiscation of up to 840 euros to “reimburse the costs of the asylum procedure”, seizure of mobile phones in order to extract geolocation data, reduction in social assistance, and, finally, a ban on persons who have been granted refugee status in that country returning to their country of origin “to spend holidays”.

The FRA[5] also points to the use of force and threat to fingerprint migrants for the EURODAC file. It would be common practice to separate adults from children and threaten parents not to see their children until they have left their fingerprints. This practice was carried out without explanations.

  • A successful foreclosure effect

Eurostat has published official statistics[6] on asylum applications and decisions[7] in the EU in 2017. The overall trend is downward: Member States registered 708,585[8] applications for international protection, almost twice as many as in 2015 (1,322,845 applications). This downward trend shows that the various policies put in place by Member States have proved asylum seekers right…

In Austria, by the end of 2017, 24,715 applications for international protection had been registered, more than three times less than in 2015 when 88,160 applications had been lodged. In Sweden, the decrease is even more significant: 162,450 requests in 2015 against 26,325 at the end of 2017. In Denmark, the situation is comparable since only 3 220 applications for international protection were registered in 2017, almost 6 times less than in 2015 (20 935 applications).

This trend has not only affected arrivals in these countries, but is also reflected in the rate at which protection is granted. In Denmark, by 2015[9], 10,220 applicants had been granted protection status, while by the end of 2017 the figure had fallen to 2,750; in Austria, on the other hand, the trend is reversing: by the end of 2017, Austria had granted almost twice as much protection status: 33,925 positive decisions in 2017 compared to 17,750 in 2015. In fact, Austria ranks 4th among the “protecting” states, behind Germany (325,370), France (40,575) and Italy (35,130). Sweden ranks 5th with 31 235 protection decisions (against 34 470 in 2015).

Generally speaking, the origin of asylum seekers in these countries is identical to the general trend observed in the European Union: Syrians are in first place followed by Afghans and Iraqis.

It goes without saying that, for the Commission, the decrease in asylum demand reflects not an improvement in the world situation but the fruits of its migration[10] management policy. It welcomes this, while calling for vigilance and preparation in order to be able to react effectively to a possible seasonal peak for the summer of 2018[11].

The premises of a new reform of European policy?

It was on the strength of the results obtained that these three countries presented themselves to the European Council on 28 June. They had no doubt that they would be supported by the four States of the Višegrad Group.

Since that calamitous summit, the handover to the Austrian Presidency[12] has helped to trigger a salvo of proposals that are rather approximate but which can only leave their mark on people by their simplicity.

For some, such as the recently proposed Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kicki, asylum applications should now be examined before the applicants arrive on the European soil (in refugee camps organised in third countries).

If it was not such a critical era, we, at AEDH, could be tempted to answer that it could likely limit the danger to many people currently forced to transit through the routes organised by the smugglers! Above all, however, we could suggest that these outsourced centres should not be organised, by generalising the use of humanitarian visas issued by the consulates of the Member States…

For others, but sometimes also for the same people, it is those who have been refused asylum who should be better able to be removed. But as they cannot all be sent back to countries at war, the luminous idea of installing them on an islet, in the middle of the sea, should soon emerge. The example of Manus, the concentration camp of refugees from Australia, seems a source of inspiration to be explored…

As for “the reform for a new Common European Asylum System”: see you in October! No one should regret the additional delay in this reform, the worst of which is to be feared in the current European political context.


For further information :

Asylum Information Database, Country report Austria, March 2018 :

Asylum Information Database, Country report Sweden, March 2018 :

ECRE, « Swenden : Restrictives changes to asylum and immigration law », 28 April 2016 :

Article INFOMIGRANTS, 19 April 2018 :

[1] Voir le commentaire cinglant d’ECRE Danish ‘left’ takes it a step further than European far right” ;  8th February 2018 | News

[2] Voir le commentaire cinglant d’ECRE Danish ‘left’ takes it a step further than European far right” ;  8th February 2018 | News

[3]          Eurostat,  Communiqués de presse des 4 mars 2016 pour les demandes d’asile (  et 20 avril 2016 pour les décisions

[4]          Eurostat,  Communiqués de presse des 4 mars 2016 pour les demandes d’asile (  et 20 avril 2016 pour les décisions

[5]             FRA, « Periodic data collection on the migration situation in the EU », May Highlights 1 March–30 April 2018,

[6]          Communiqué de presse, 650 000 primo-demandeurs d’asile enregistrés en 2017, 20 mars 2018,

[7]          Communiqué de presse, 650 000 primo-demandeurs d’asile enregistrés en 2017, 20 mars 2018,

[8]          Eurostat, Base de données

[9]          Eurostat, Base de données



[12]        Voir en ce sens la note de l’AEDH,