Fine-tuning EU’s migration approach to better safeguard rights

© doom.ko / Shutterstock
© doom.ko / Shutterstock
The current migration situation is placing a strain on Member States leading to fundamental rights protection gaps for asylum seekers and migrants. Delays, overcrowding and lack of information impinge on the rights of migrants, particularly children. The latest Opinions from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights shed light on the protection gaps, focusing on the EU’s migration hotspot approach and the impact on children of the proposed changes to the EU’s Dublin rules for determining which Member State examines applications for international protection.

In some hotspots delays in processing applications have put pressure on facilities and local authorities. Migrants are often housed in overcrowded reception centres that are ill-equipped to keep women and children safe from violence and harassment. The lack of appropriate information also leads migrants to be uncertain and ill-informed about their legal rights. In addition, unaccompanied children are at risk of neglect and abuse or detained for their ‘own safety’ and subject to temporary guardianship systems that are ineffective.

To address some of these challenges the Agency’s migration hotspots Opinion makes a number of suggestions. These include: improving information flows about procedures and the status of applications to ease tensions among migrants as well as providing translations and child-friendly information; free and greater access to legal counsel; better protection for children such as prioritising the claims of unaccompanied children, vetting staff, individual risk assessments and sufficient resources for child guardians; qualified staff who are trained how to work with children, to identify victims of trafficking and gender-based violence; and avoiding excessive use of detention for migrants who will be returned.

The EU’s current Dublin rules determine which Member State is responsible to examine applications for international protection. However, applying these rules can take up to 11 months, leading to bottlenecks and leaving applicants, particularly children, in challenging circumstances. To improve the rules, the EU is proposing revisions.

The Agency’s Opinion on the impact on children of the proposed revisions to the Dublin rules underlines the need to adhere to existing child rights standards. This will ensure children’s best interests are taken into account, their rights to be heard and informed are respected, and guardians, not only legal representatives, are appointed. Promoting family unity and safeguarding unaccompanied children should be prioritised while also allowing sufficient time for thorough assessments and information collection rather than using fast tracked procedures. This also means allowing new information on family members to be considered rather than using pre-determined deadlines.

Both Opinions were requested by the European Parliament. The Agency’s assessment should feed into revisions to the EU’s new Dublin rules, and guide the EU and its Member States better safeguard fundamental rights in the hotspots in Greece and Italy.

They complement the Agency’s regular overviews of migration-related fundamental rights challenges in selected EU Member States and its evidence-based advice. This includes its latest report on preventing border management rights violations.

In 2015, the EU released its European Agenda on Migration. It included a hotspots approach where EU bodies provide frontline support to Member States swiftly identify, register and fingerprint migrants. It also proposed revising the EU’s Dublin rules to make it more effective and address existing challenges.

FRA issues Opinions on specific thematic topics, following requests for advice from the European Parliament, the EU Council or the European Commission. These Opinions are part of the agency's fundamental rights assistance and expertise that it provides to EU institutions and Member States.