European Parliament stands up for asylum seekers

The European Parliament and Commission are set on a collision course with the Council of Europe, the organisation of Member States, over asylum policy after the Parliament adopted a report that condemned draconian practices by European countries.

December 1, 2004
5 min read


Alex NunnsAlex Nunns is Red Pepper's political correspondent @alexnunns

The report, authored by Green MEP for London Jean Lambert and approved by 321 votes to 246 on 15 December 2004, called on EU states to develop a uniform process for assessing asylum applications and strongly rejected the idea of refugee camps in North Africa.

The vote comes against a background of increasingly tough rhetoric from European states towards asylum seekers. In October the German and Italian governments floated a plan to create large holding camps in North Africa to process would-be migrants to Europe. This idea has been condemned by human rights organisations and refugees’ groups like ECRE and UNHCR and was firmly voted down by the European Parliament.

The Lambert report welcomed two recent communications by the European Commission, one calling for the ‘enhancement of the protection capacity of the regions of origin’ and the other focused on creating a ‘more efficient common European asylum system’. The latter is an attempt to end the situation in which European Member States have wildly divergent criteria and procedures for assessing asylum claims. The likelihood of a Chechen refugee receiving asylum in the Slovak Republic, for example, is thin, but should that person manage to cross the border to Austria the chances improve greatly. The report called for standards to be levelled up and deplored the tendency for Member States to harmonise their practices to the lowest common denominator.

Currently assessment procedures are often complicated and lengthy. The report recommended that asylum seekers be subject to one process, with a right of appeal, determining whether an applicant is eligible for asylum status or, if not, to subsidiary protection (a guarantee that they will not be sent back to a country in the grip of a crisis).

The European Parliament also backed a plan to ‘front-load’ the decision making process, meaning investing in better-trained immigration officials and more reliable information gathering. This includes a new initiative to monitor failed applicants who are returned to their country of origin, a controversial measure which countries like Britain are not likely to embrace. When asylum seekers are deported states make no subsequent attempt to check that the judgement was correct, a situation which some see as convenient for states keen to ‘clear the backlog’ of asylum applications. But Jean Lambert told MEPs that ‘it is appalling that someone’s life should depend on an opinion which was never tested for its veracity’. She used the example of Ramzi Isalaam, a homosexual Algerian who is facing the prospect of deportation from the UK on the basis of outdated and sketchy information.

The other main thrust of the report stressed the need to greatly increase support to asylum seekers in their region of origin, both for humanitarian reasons and to try to prevent the desperate scenes of people risking their lives to reach the territory of the EU.

There is enthusiasm in European circles for ‘resettlement’ programmes whereby vulnerable refugees in dangerous areas are identified and offered sanctuary without having previously applied for it. These programmes are common in Australia, the US and Canada but are relatively new to Europe. Some fear that states could use this initiative to further create a false distinction between ‘genuine’ and ‘bogus’ asylum seekers, emphasising compassion in resettling vulnerable refugees while clamping down on asylum applicants. But the European Parliament was explicit that neither resettlement nor greater protection in the regions of origin could exempt states from their obligations to asylum seekers, and that any expense should not be taken out of existing development budgets.

The Lambert report was passed with the support of Lambert’s Green/European Free Alliance group, the Socialists, the Liberals, some of the conservative EPP and the left GUE group. The GUE, made up of parties such as Sinn Fein and Italy’s Rifondazione Comunista, has 41 seats in the Parliament, compared to 42 Greens/EFA, 88 Liberals, 202 Socialists and 268 conservatives. Lambert calculated that gaining the backing of the GUE was more important than attempting to secure the complete support of the conservatives and accepted five GUE amendments that made the report rhetorically more radical.

The whole package sees Parliament in alliance with the European Commission against the Council of Europe. ‘It is fair to see this vote as the Parliament standing up for the rights of asylum seekers in the face of the Council’, Jean Lambert said. ‘Parliament’s emphatic vote against the idea of refugee camps in North Africa sends a strong message that should kill off the idea, at least at the European level, although it will still be possible for states to establish bilateral programs’.

The vote came ahead of European Council discussions on asylum policy, and International Migrants Day on December 18. The timing was intended to exert maximum pressure on the Council. Although a European Parliament vote to adopt a report has no binding legislative effect, it does hold a moral force as the expressed view of the only democratically elected European body.


Alex NunnsAlex Nunns is Red Pepper's political correspondent @alexnunns


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out