Asylum seekers must be reunited with families, conference hears

Burden of refugee crisis must be shared, says UN agency

The European Union's failure to help asylum seekers to reunite with their families is blocking their full integration into society and pushing them further into isolation, a conference in Brussels has heard.

Asylum seekers need more legal ways to seek refuge abroad, Sophie Magennis, head of political and legal support for the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR declared.

"Evidence shows where families are broken, they find it incredibly difficult to integrate within the EU member state they're living in," Ms Magennis told journalists at the European Parliament in Brussels.

“At the moment family reunification for people outside the EU is nearly impossible. The amount of obstacles are massive . . . we’re dealing with a system that does not work at all,” she went on.

EU states should use money available under the EU's Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) to help settle refugees, but four countries, including Poland and Bulgaria, have spent none of their shares.

Promote integration

Last month the Department of Justice announced that €1.8 million would be spent on 14 projects nationwide to promote integration, adding that Ireland intends to spend all of the AMIF money allocated to it.

The European Union ’s commissioner for migration and home affairs, Dimitris Avramopoulos, called on governments to ensure their citizens do not confuse terrorism with asylum seekers.

“These are people precisely fleeing terrorism, not creating it,” he said. “There have of course been exceptions, with a small number of asylum seekers involved in attacks, but we cannot accept the false rhetoric equating refugees with terrorists. If we do, we accept exactly the discourse of conflict and division that terrorists wish to create in our society.”

The commissioner added that the EU’s failure to create a working asylum system came down to the “fragmented” and “inward-looking” manner in which the union responded to the crisis.

“We have entered the era of human mobility. It’s not about stopping it but how it can be managed. The refugee crisis has shown us that national measures do not bring satisfactory resolutions,” he declared.

Dublin convention

Mr Avramopoulos joined a number of MEPs from across Europe on Wednesday to discuss changes to the so-called Dublin convention, under which asylum seekers must make their application for protection in the first EU state they reach. The European Parliament is now working to reform this regulation with a specific focus on resettling asylum seekers fairly across EU member states.

Swedish MEP Cecilia Wikström highlighted the burden felt by frontline EU member states, such as Greece and Italy, who have provided asylum to tens of thousands of refugees since 2015.

Criticising other EU states, Ms Wikström said some states are using the Dublin Convention to create a buffet-style system, where they “pick and choose” the refugees they want to take, if any.

Under plans to reform the Dublin convention, EU structural funds will be withheld from member states that fail to meet their commitments in resettling and relocating asylum seekers.

“European solidarity means every country should take its fair share,” she said, “It’s not sustainable anymore for the five top-receiving countries, it’s not okay that we’re doing a huge part of the job and others are doing nothing.”

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast