Coronavirus: Commission presents guidance on implementing EU rules on asylum and return procedures and on resettlement
Today, the Commission adopted guidance on the implementation of relevant EU rules on asylum and return procedures and on resettlement in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, which it will present to Member States. This responds to Member States' request for advice on ways to ensure the continuity of procedures and the respect of, at a minimum, basic rights. The guidance was prepared with the support of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), and in cooperation with national authorities.
Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “The pandemic has direct consequences on the way EU asylum and return rules are being implemented and a disruptive effect on resettlement. Today we are acting to support Member States in providing guidance on how to use the flexibility in EU rules to ensure the continuity of procedures as much as possible while fully ensuring the protection of people's health and rights. While our way of life may have changed drastically in the past weeks – our values and principles must not.”
Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said: "Even in a health emergency, we need to guarantee individual fundamental rights. The Commission fully acknowledges the difficulties that Member States face in the current situation. In the guidelines, we give advice for practical solutions which take into account Member States' legitimate concerns and constraints. Any measure taken in the area of asylum, resettlement and return should also take full account of the health protection measures introduced by the Member States to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Vulnerable persons, in particular unaccompanied minors, and families should receive particular care and attention.”
Health measures taken to limit social interaction among asylum personnel and applicants have an impact on asylum processes. The flexibility provided for in EU rules should be used:
- Registration and processing of applications should continue. Maximum flexibility should be permitted in relation to deadlines and the duration for processing and examining claims. However, any delays in registration should not mean applicants are left without reception conditions.
- Personal interviews can be conducted with specific arrangements such as remotely through video conferencing or even omitted if needed.
- Dublin Regulation: Close cooperation between Member States is of fundamental importance for the good functioning of the Dublin system. The Commission encourages all Member States to resume transfers of applicants as soon as practically possible in view of the evolving circumstances. Before carrying out any transfer, Member States should consider the situation related to the coronavirus, including that resulting from the heavy pressure on the health system, in the Member State responsible. Where transfers to the Member State normally responsible cannot take place within the applicable time limit, Member States can still agree bilaterally to nevertheless carry out the transfer at a later date, which is to be encouraged for example for unaccompanied minors and family reunification cases. The Commission and EASO are prepared to facilitate cooperation between Member States.
- Reception conditions: Quarantine and isolation measures must be reasonable, proportionate and non-discriminatory. Applicants must receive the necessary health care.Applicants in detention should continue to have access to open air and any restrictions, such as limitation of visitors, need to be carefully explained.
- Fingerprinting: In line with the Eurodac Regulation, where it is not possible to take the fingerprints of an applicant on account of measures taken to protect public health, Member States should take fingerprints as soon as possible and no later than 48 hours after such health grounds cease to exist.
The outbreak of the coronavirus has led to a severe disruption of resettlement operations. Member States as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have temporarily suspended resettlement operations. Preparatory activities should continue to the extent possible so that resettlement operations can resume smoothly. The Commission will continue to support Member States to fulfil their 2020 pledges and will grant flexibility in relation to the implementation period.
Measures taken worldwide to contain the pandemic are having a significant effect on return. Despite the temporary disruption caused by the coronavirus, work on return procedures to third countries should continue, particularly on activities that can be carried out despite restrictive measures, to be ready for when return operations can be resumed. More than ever, voluntary returns should be prioritised, also because they present a lower health and safety risk. Frontex stands ready to assist Member States in organising air operations. Close cooperation and contacts with third countries on the identification, documentation and return of their nationals should also be maintained. As regards pre-removal detention, the temporary restrictions during the pandemic should not be interpreted as automatically leading to the conclusion that a reasonable prospect of removal no longer exists in all cases. The Commission invites Member States to examine each case individually to determine whether a reasonable prospect of removal still exists when deciding on appropriate action to take.
The Commission invited Heads of State or Government on 16 March 2020 to introduce a temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU for an initial period of 30 days, prolonged until 15 May. Leaders endorsed this call on 17 March; and all EU Member States (except Ireland) and non-EU Schengen countries have since then taken national decisions to implement this travel restriction. The exemptions to the travel restriction extend to persons in need of international protection or for other humanitarian reasons respecting the principle of non-refoulement.
This guidance will be complemented by dedicated thematic meetings organised by EU agencies to assist Member States with practical advice and facilitate the sharing of best practices.
For More Information
Guidance on the implementation of relevant EU provisions in the area of asylum and return and on resettlement procedures
Guidance on the implementation of the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU