For asylum applicants, the EASO guidance on reception conditions outlines how to apply the reception standards laid down in Directive 2013/33/EU for such individuals. The treatment of people in return procedures must comply with the Return Directive (2008/115/EC). The CPT standards guide the planning and design of immigration detention facilities.
During FRA’s visits to Greece, Hungary, Italy and Spain, the agency observed two different approaches to hosting new arrivals at external borders. These observations do not include police facilities that host apprehended or intercepted third-country nationals for just a few hours.
The first approach consists of hosting arrivals in initial-reception facilities, where they stay for the short time needed to carry out their first registration and identification. The arrivals are moved from such facilities to other reception facilities within a matter of days.
The second approach consists of hosting new arrivals in reception facilities at borders, including during the asylum and/or return procedure or parts thereof. In this case, their stay can last for many months.
In its 2019 update of the FRA Opinion on fundamental rights in the hotspots, FRA recalled that the prolonged stay of asylum applicants at relatively remote border locations led to almost insurmountable fundamental rights challenges. These included undignified reception conditions that caused suffering among the asylum applicants and frictions with the local population. In general, the longer the stay in such centres, the more difficult it becomes to uphold dignified reception conditions set out in EU law.
FRA’s observations also underscored that the available reception capacity largely determines reception conditions. Whether facilities are large or small, overcrowding is a key hurdle to dignified stays.
FRA has identified the following twelve points for protection-sensitive and fundamental rights-compliant planning and design of initial-reception facilities at external borders. These are based on the agency’s work at external borders, including data collection and research activities.
Involving a multi-disciplinary team that includes refugee protection, environment and health expertise in site selection can help reduce risks.
Adequate information on the right to apply for international protection and the procedure to follow is a prerequisite under EU law for accessing the right to asylum. Cooperating with organisations specialised in refugee protection and making available legal support can make more effective the information provided.
Unless deprivation of liberty is justified in an individual case under the Reception Conditions Directive 2013/33/EU, asylum applicants should be allowed to leave the facility and return to it, when possible facilitated through public transport. To monitor whether vulnerable people hosted in the facilities, in particular children, have gone missing, there should be effective entry and exit controls.
Persons in return procedures should not be automatically detained or their liberty restricted beyond what is necessary or proportionate, in full respect of the individual assessment and other requirements of the Return Directive 2008/115/EC.
Particularly where both the procedures and the applicable situation are constantly evolving, gaps in the timely provision of adequate information can frustrate those hosted in a facility. Providing information is most effective when done after a newly arrived person has had a possibility to rest, and by actors whom third-country nationals trust and consider neutral.
Identifying vulnerabilities is crucial to safeguard people’s rights during their entire stay in a facility and for organising transfers to appropriate facilities. Standardising, to some degree, procedures to identify whether a person has vulnerabilities promotes consistency.
First-reception and identification procedures should be set up in a way that allows medical, legal, social and psychosocial staff to work in tandem with the authorities registering new arrivals. Having sufficient space for confidential interviews and involving female staff and interpreters in registration improves the registration process and the identification of certain vulnerabilities, such as those affecting victims of gender-based violence.
In case of SGBV incidents, there must be clear procedures to immediately separate the victim from the perpetrator(s) and organise their swift transfer to a safe location outside the facility. The availability of same-sex staff, including interpreters, to receive reports of harassment or sexual violence in the camps and facilitate potential referrals is essential.
In line with the Anti-Trafficking Directive 2011/36/EU, staff in reception centres at external borders likely to come into contact with victims of trafficking in human beings should be adequately trained to identify and support such victims.
Separately accommodating families and creating safe areas for children, need to be accompanied by adequate additional arrangements. Qualified staff specialised in child-protection matters always need to be present. EU law places specific requirements on the material conditions for children, their education and healthcare, and requires that children have the protection and care as is necessary for their well-being.
Unaccompanied children should be assigned guardians and placed outside facilities, in adequate housing with the necessary social and psychological support services.
Clear rules should be in place for the systematic vetting and screening of all personnel in the reception facilities who come into direct contact with children.
The safety of everyone in the reception facilities should be ensured by using community policing methods. This entails having the police interact regularly with those hosted in the facilities to make them aware of emerging risks. For this purpose, police should have easy access to interpreters and cultural mediators.
Female police officers should be present in all patrols at day and night, and patrols should visit all areas of the facilities. Each area should also have visibly displayed emergency call numbers, including for domestic violence cases.