by Mariana Canotilho, Editor
‘Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground’
The 6th EASO Consultative Forum Plenary took place in Athens on 28-29 November 2016. I took part in it, as an academic, interested in EU law, and a volunteer working with refugees. A feeling of deep frustration seemed to be shared by most of the attendants (academics, NGO’s workers, EU and UN agencies’ representatives). What is being done is not enough. It is too slow, too bureaucratic; the legal framework is either insufficient or absurd and counterproductive.
EASO is the European Asylum Support Office. It plays a central role in the implementation of the EU Migration agenda and the new hotspot approach. It is the European agency more focused on the specific problems of refugees, trying to strengthen the practical cooperation among Member States on the many aspects of asylum, and providing practical and technical support to Member States and the European Commission, especially to those whose asylum and reception systems are under particular pressure.
However, it can only do so much. The meagre means don’t help, but neither does the competence set, nor the legal framework being applied. The most worrisome feature, repeatedly questioned by NGOs, UN agencies and volunteers is the ‘safe country of origin’ criteria. As part of the European Agenda on Migration, the Commission proposed on 9 September 2015 to establish a common EU list of safe countries of origin that would enable fast-tracking of asylum applications from citizens of these countries, which are considered ‘safe’ according to the criteria set out in the Asylum Procedures Directive and in full compliance with the principle of non-refoulement. This might seem a reasonable idea. However, the criteria are so strict, that countries like Turkey and Afghanistan are considered safe based on their ‘stable democratic system and compliance with international human‐rights treaties’. As this does not stop people from fleeing war and human rights violations, it only aggravates the problems, creating a group of ‘second-class refugees’, who cannot even apply to the relocation mechanism.