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. He tweets at @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. He tweets at @alexnunns


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

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry

Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram