Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

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


  share     tweet  

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.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

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


Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi