Asylum ruling ‘strengthens’ Malta’s stand for change
Malta’s hand in the EU on immigration has been strengthened by a European Court of Human Rights judgment which slammed rules dealing with asylum seekers, according to Nationalist MEP Simon Busuttil.
The Dublin II rules, which stipulate that applications for asylum have to be handled by the country where the migrants first arrives, were on Friday described as inhumane by the European Court of Human Rights. The case was filed by an Afghan refugee against Belgium and Greece.
However, the Home Affairs Ministry issued a cautious reaction when asked about the implications of the judgment on Malta’s stand.
“The ministry has to make a detailed evaluation of the judgment and will also await the European Commission’s stand before taking a formal position,” a spokesman told The Sunday Times.
He said the issue will most likely be discussed at the next meeting of EU home affairs ministers at the end of February.
Malta has long maintained that the Dublin II rules should be suspended in extraordinary circumstances that create pressure on border states.
This stand had the backing of the European Parliament but was shot down by the Council of Ministers where Malta met opposition from various governments.
According to Dr Busuttil, Malta’s argument now has the weight of a court judgment behind it.
“Malta may not be facing an emergency situation today like Greece is, but the government should study the judgment carefully and establish whether it should invoke it in its favour by refusing to accept asylum seekers who are sent back to Malta from other EU member states,” Dr Busuttil said.
The judgment gives credence to the European Parliament’s stand in favour of suspending the Dublin regulations in cases of an exceptional nature such as those faced by frontier states like Malta, Greece and Cyprus.
“The judgment will increase the resolve of the European Parliament and will go a long way in convincing ministers that have been reluctant until now to change their position,” Dr Busuttil said.
In this week’s sitting Dr Busuttil will ask the European Parliament to call on the Council to get back around the table and review the Dublin regulations.
Dublin II asylum rules
The Dublin regulations do not harmonise asylum laws across the EU. They are intended to establish a quick way by which member states determine who is responsible for processing an asylum application.
According to the regulations, asylum applications have to be dealt with at the point of entry. This means that if a migrant reaches Malta but asks for asylum in the next country he moves to, that country could send him back to Malta.
While these regulations are intended to prevent ‘asylum shopping’ (migrants who seek asylum in different countries at the same time) they have created a disproportionate burden on border countries like Malta, Greece, Spain, Italy and Cyprus.
In emergency situations, when these countries have to deal with hundreds and thousands of asylum applications at one go, the Dublin rules prevent them from transferring migrants to other EU states.
An Afghan refugee’s plea
An Afghan national who fled Kabul in 2008 entered the EU through Greece and then travelled to Belgium where he applied for asylum.
In June 2009, Belgium sent him back to Greece, where he was detained in degrading and overcrowded conditions before going on to live on the streets without any material support. The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (which falls under the umbrella of the Council of Europe, not the EU) said the man had been exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment in Greece and his right to an effective remedy had been violated.
The court also called for the system to be revised by also taking into consideration the different circumstances of member states.