Terrorisme et droit des réfugiés, des liaisons dangereuses ? Libres propos sur le « Muslim Ban » et la jurisprudence Lounani de la Cour de justice

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED HERE ON 13 FÉVRIER 2017

par  Henri Labayle

Les polémiques entourant l’application de l’Executive Order signé le 25 janvier 2017 par Donald Trump, président des Etats Unis nouvellement élu, interdisant temporairement l’entrée aux Etats-Unis aux ressortissants de sept pays et suspendant le jeu de la protection internationale, ont quitté les colonnes médiatiques pour pénétrer les prétoires. Motivé par le désir de lutter préventivement contre le terrorisme, selon ses auteurs, et par une volonté discriminatoire envers les musulmans, selon ses détracteurs, le texte pose de graves problèmes juridiques.

L’attention qu’on lui porte ne doit pas masquer qu’au même moment, le 31 janvier 2017, la Cour de justice de l’Union prononçait un arrêt important sur les liens qui peuvent être établis entre la nécessité de lutter contre le terrorisme et le dispositif protecteur des réfugiés politiques (CJUE, 31 janvier 2017, Lounani, C-573/16).

Si l’on ajoute à ces épisodes majeurs l’émoi provoqué en Turquie le 26 janvier 2017 par le refus de la Cour suprême grecque d’accepter l’extradition de huit militaires turcs qualifiés eux-aussi de « terroristes », on mesure à quel point les liaisons dangereuses désormais établies au grand jour entre le droit des réfugiés et la lutte contre le terrorisme deviennent monnaie courante et alimentent le débat public, juridique ou pas.

Ce constat mérite un éclairage et suscite une réflexion d’autant plus nécessaire que ces liaisons sont parfois fondées, malheureusement. Depuis le 11 septembre 2001, la lutte contre le terrorisme met en question ouvertement le jeu des règles du droit des réfugiés, à force d’amalgames (I), au risque de fragiliser la protection qui est due à ces réfugiés (II). D’où l’intérêt d’un contrôle attentif du juge, interne comme européen (III).

1. La stigmatisation croissante du droit des réfugiés

Dès le lendemain des attentats du 11 septembre, la brèche s’est ouverte aux yeux de tous. On se souvient en effet qu’en réaction, lors de sa session extraordinaire du 20 septembre, le Conseil « Justice et affaires intérieures » avait immédiatement invité la Commission à examiner le « rapport entre la sauvegarde de la sécurité intérieure et le respect des obligations et instruments internationaux en matière de protection ». A cette insinuation à peine dissimulée, la Commission avait opposé un rappel du droit positif en la matière (COM (2001) 743).

S’il n’était guère envisageable, à l’époque, de remettre sérieusement en question la protection offerte par les règles de l’asile conventionnel, même au vu des attentats du WTC, en revanche, quinze ans plus tard, le contexte a changé. La montée en charge du terrorisme aveugle éclaire différemment l’attitude politique des Etats, sinon des institutions de l’Union, et la tentation des uns ou des autres est grande d’infléchir le droit.

Un nombre grandissant d’affaires, pas toujours contentieuses, ont ainsi fait la démonstration que les deux questions, terrorisme et protection internationale, n’étaient plus aussi étanches que par le passé. La mise à jour de leurs relations a obligé à une réflexion d’ensemble, entamée sans états d’âme par exemple avec l’élargissement des missions de Frontex aux questions sécuritaires. La connexion des deux grands volets de l’Espace de liberté, sécurité justice de l’Union, ceux de la sécurité et de la migration, s’est désormais opérée sans que l’on en ait mesuré exactement les risques et les implications.

Lointaines peuvent sembler à ce titre ces premières interrogations de la fin des années quatre-vingt, lorsque le Conseil d’Etat français autorisa la livraison vers l’Espagne de terroristes basques malgré leurs prétentions au refuge, tout en exigeant la perte de leur statut protecteur. Tout aussi éloignés paraissent les débats relatifs au fait du prince d’un ancien président de la République, se croyant en droit d’accorder le refuge à un ancien terroriste italien, avant que le Conseil d’Etat ne dénie toute portée juridique à cette prétention. Beaucoup plus douloureuses, en revanche, sont des affaires comme celle de l’inspirateur présumé de l’attentat d’Istanbul, Ahmed Tchataïev, auquel l’Autriche accorda le statut de réfugié politique et dont la CEDH avait interdit la livraison à la Russie en 2010. Bien plus parlantes, enfin et parmi d’autres, sont les affaires Nasr et Ghali c. Italieet Abu Qatada c. Royaume Uni, tranchées par la Cour européenne des droits de l’Homme.

Dans la première, à Rome, la « restitution extraordinaire » d’un membre d’un mouvement islamiste considéré comme terroriste, effectuée par des services secrets américains, va ainsi donner l’occasion de constater que l’intéressé, condamné par la justice italienne pour des faits de terrorisme, n’en bénéficiait pas moins du statut de réfugié politique délivré par l’Italie. Dans l’autre affaire, relative à un prêcheur islamiste radical convaincu de liens avec Al Qaida et chantre du terrorisme favori des tabloïds britanniques, il s’avèrera à l’examen que, là encore, les autorités locales lui avaient accordé le statut de réfugié politique.

Que, le plus souvent, le refuge soit accordé en raison du risque de traitements attentatoires aux droits de l’Homme dans l’Etat où ils sont poursuivis laisse cependant les opinions publiques nationales aussi indifférentes à l’explication juridique qu’incrédules devant ce qu’elles interprètent comme une défaillance de la puissance publique. Pire, elles en attribuent la responsabilité à l’intégration européenne.

D’autant que ces brèches dans l’idée, généralement partagée jusqu’alors, selon laquelle les demandeurs de protection internationale sont avant tout des victimes et non des bourreaux se sont notablement s’élargies à la suite des attentats en France et en Belgique.

Les enquêtes judiciaires démontrent en effet que la crise migratoire de l’été 2015 a été utilisée, ponctuellement mais à plusieurs reprises, par les commandos ayant frappé en France pour circuler en toute impunité. Ce dont atteste le rapport annuel 2016 de Frontex sur l’analyse des risques, constatant que deux des responsables des attentats de Paris en novembre avaient utilisé la couverture du flot de réfugiés pour pénétrer illégalement dans l’Union. Pratique identique à celle de suspects d’un attentat avorté à Dusseldorf en 2016, avant que le dossier de l’auteur de l’attentat du marché de Noel de Berlin ne révèle qu’il avait été auparavant demandeur d’asile. L’effet de ces constats est dévastateur pour l’acceptation du droit des réfugiés et sa légitimité.

Aux yeux de l’opinion publique, l’équation terrorisme/réfugiés ou migration s’ancre ainsi progressivement, irrationnellement, comme le constate en vain Gilles de Kerchove, coordonnateur de la lutte contre le terrorisme. Que le Rapporteur spécial du Conseil des droits de l’homme sur la promotion et la protection des droits de l’homme et des libertés fondamentales dans la lutte antiterroriste de l’ONU, Ben Emmerson, s’efforce de faire la démonstration de cette absence de liens ou même que les Etats Unis d’avant Donald Trump aient ouvertement reconnu que les deux questions n’étaient pas liées n’émeut pas davantage.

Une rhétorique nouvelle au sein de l’Union européenne s’en nourrit et prospère. A l’Est notamment, hostile à la fois à l’accueil et au jeu de la solidarité dans la répartition des demandeurs de protection dans l’Union. Le risque terroriste sera ainsi ouvertement évoqué par les dirigeants de plusieurs Etats lors de la crise migratoire, quand leur propre justice ne qualifiera pas de « terroristes » ceux qui franchissent leurs frontières …

Comment ne pas comprendre que cette dérive ait alors inspiré la mise en application du programme de Donald Trump et que son action ait reçu un écho parfois favorable dans certaines capitales ? Du Premier ministre slovaque, Robert Fico, désireux « d’empêcher la création d’une communauté musulmane dans le pays » aux réticences polonaises et au blocage hongrois, tout va concourir dans une partie de l’Union à la chaude approbation du décret du nouveau président américain par son homologue tchèque : « Trump is protecting his country, he’s concerned with the safety of his citizens… the safety of Czech citizens is a priority. Now we have allies in the US ».

En droit, et ce n’est pas le plus simple à manier aux yeux des citoyens de l’Union, il n’en va pas aussi facilement.

2. L’étendue de la protection offerte par le droit des réfugiés

Sous deux angles très différents, l’Union européenne et les Etats Unis d’Amérique viennent d’être confrontés à cette relation délicate qu’il convient d’établir entre les obligations relatives à la protection internationale d’une part, et, d’autre part l’impératif qu’il y a à prévenir et à lutter contre le terrorisme international. Avec une intelligence certaine, la Cour de justice s’emploie ainsi à démontrer que la protection offerte par le droit des réfugiés, celui de Genève comme celui de l’Union, n’est pas sans limites. Balayant toute nuance, l’exécutif américain a choisi au contraire la brutalité.

Les termes du droit international positif sont clairs, posant des interdits autant que des possibilités d’agir (a). Au nom de la prévention du terrorisme et en des termes très politiques, l’Executive order signé par Donald Trump, le 27 janvier 2017 a pourtant défrayé la chronique internationale par son ampleur (b) . A l’opposé, dans une démarche très juridique, la Cour de justice s’est efforcée de démontrer que le cadre existant ne privait pas les Etats de moyens de répondre au terrorisme, le 31 janvier 2017 dans l’affaire Lounani (a).

a) – Le contenu des obligations pesant sur les Etats

L’article 1er F de la Convention de Genève, au respect desquels les Etats Unis d’Amérique comme les Etats membres de l’Union sont tenus, la déclare non applicable « aux personnes dont on aura des raisons sérieuses de penser :

a)  qu’elles ont commis un crime contre la paix, un crime de guerre ou un crime contre l’humanité, au sens des instruments internationaux élaborés pour prévoir des dispositions relatives à ces crimes; 


b)  qu’elles ont commis un crime grave de droit commun en dehors du pays d’accueil avant d’y être admises comme réfugiées ; 


c)  qu’elles se sont rendues coupables d’agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations Unies».

A cela, la jurisprudence de la Cour européenne ajoute ses interdits quant à l’impossibilité de renvoyer un individu, quel qu’il soit, vers une destination où il risquerait d’être soumis à un traitement prohibé par les articles 2 et 3 de la CEDH. Ce qui a permis à la protection dite « subsidiaire » de trouver reconnaissance sans que cela signifie un seul instant une quelconque approbation de la cause défendue.

Deux articles clés de la Convention de Genève, ordonnent ensuite le débat autour de cette « pierre angulaire » du régime juridique applicable aux réfugiés, comme la Cour de justice s’en est fait déjà l’écho (CJUE, 9 novembre 2010, B et D (C‐57/09 et C‐101/09, point 77).

Son article 33, d’abord, interdit à la fois l’expulsion et le refoulement dans son §1er : « aucun des Etats Contractants n’expulsera ou ne refoulera, de quelque manière que ce soit, un réfugié sur les frontières des territoires où sa vie ou sa liberté serait menacée en raison de sa race, de sa religion, de sa nationalité, de son appartenance à un certain groupe social ou de ses opinions politiques ». La force de cette interdiction est soulignée par le fait que, en vertu de l’article 42 du texte, aucune réserve étatique n’est admise à ce sujet.

Certes, en vertu du §2 du même article 33, le bénéfice de cette disposition ne peut être invoqué par un réfugié qu’il y aura des raisons sérieuses de considérer comme un danger pour la sécurité du pays où il se trouve ou qui, ayant été l’objet d’une condamnation définitive pour un crime ou délit particulièrement grave, « constitue une menace pour la communauté dudit pays ».

D’où la confrontation de ces interdits avec les pratiques américaines ou européennes, qu’il s’agisse de prévenir le terrorisme ou de lui répondre.

b) – Droit des réfugiés et prévention du terrorisme

Telle est la motivation avancée par le texte de l’Executive order du 27 janvier 2017. Il ne fait aucun mystère des liens qu’il établit a priori entre terrorisme et immigration irrégulière et son intitulé est sans ambiguïté aucune à l’instant d’expliciter son objectif : « Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States ».

Aussi, indépendamment des questions portant sur la suspension des visas des ressortissants d’un certain nombre de pays tiers, dont sept Etats ciblés au Proche Orient (Irak, Iran, Libye, Somalie, Soudan, Syrie, Yémen), la volonté présidentielle vise-t-elle spécifiquement les étrangers à la recherche d’une protection. Ce que la section 5 du texte exprime en affichant un « Realignment of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for Fiscal Year 2017 ». Celui-ci comporte des mesures clairement contraires aux obligations internationales pesant sur les Etats Unis.

Il procède, en premier lieu, à la suspension du programme d’admission des États -Unis pour les réfugiés (USRAP) pendant 120 jours. Ces quatre mois permettront au Secrétaire d’Etat d’examiner l’état du droit existant, pourtant déjà réputé comme restrictif, et de déterminer les modifications éventuelles des procédures garantissant que l’admission des réfugiés ne constitue pas une menace à la sécurité et le bien-être des Etats-Unis.

Cette suspension est assortie d’une précision chiffrée quant à la capacité d’accueil des USA : leur président « proclaim that the entry of more than 50,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017 would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I determine that additional admissions would be in the national interest » (Section 5, d)).

Il y ajoute ensuite des instructions particulièrement problématiques visant à distinguer les « bons » des « mauvais » demandeurs d’asile et à leur donner priorité, notamment à partir de critères religieux : invitation est ainsi faite au Secrétaire d’Etat, en consultation avec son homologue à la Sécurité intérieure, de modifier les pratiques existantes, « to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious- based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality » (Section 5, b)).

Enfin, pour ce qui est des ressortissants syriens qui sont aujourd’hui l’objet d’une préoccupation majeure de la Communauté internationale du point de vue des besoins de protection, le couperet tombe : leur entrée en tant que réfugiés est jugée comme « contraire aux intérêts des Etats Unis » et donc interdite par principe jusqu’à réexamen : « I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest ».

Inversant la logique qui structure le droit humanitaire, celle qui voudrait qu’il profite avant tout à la personne, l’Executive order du 27 janvier reconnaît la possibilité de dérogations discrétionnaires mais bornées par un constat sidérant. Ainsi, une admission dérogatoire peut être envisagée, au cas par cas, si elle est « in the national interest » (sic !!!), et pour des motifs liés notamment à l’existence de persécutions religieuses dont on voit bien à quoi elles réfèrent.

Il est donc difficile de ne pas conclure à un mépris délibéré des obligations internationales des Etats Unis. Cela est à la fois potentiellement avéré pour ce qui est de l’obligation de non-refoulement et tout à fait évident pour ce qui est de l’article 3 de la convention de Genève.

Ce dernier affirme que « les Etats Contractants appliqueront les dispositions de cette Convention aux réfugiés sans discrimination quant à la race, la religion ou le pays d’origine ». Rapidement qualifié par la presse et les opinions publiques comme un « Muslim Ban », le texte du président nouvellement élu est clairement discriminatoire, ce dont son auteur ne faisait guère mystère lors des débats électoraux. On comprend alors la volée internationale de bois vert qui l’a accueilli, d’Angela Merkel au Secrétaire général des Nations Unies et de nombre de ses collaborateurs en matière de droits fondamentaux sans que le HCR, vraisemblablement inquiet pour ses modalités de fonctionnement, ne se signale par une virulence particulière.

Il reste qu’en dehors d’une action étatique improbable devant la Cour de justice, rien ne menace en fait l’unilatéralisme américain en l’espèce. ce dernier n’en serait qu’à ses débuts si l’on en croit la promesse d’un nouvel Executive order relatif à la position des Etats Unis dans les négociations des traités relatifs aux droits de l’Homme…

c) – Exclusion du statut de réfugié et participation à des activités terroristes

La question n’est, malheureusement, pas nouvelle. La Cour de justice a déjà eu à en connaître à propos d’individus convaincus de connivences terroristes avant leur arrivée sur le territoire de l’Union, dans un pays tiers, et désireux soit de conserver soit d’obtenir le statut de réfugié (CJUE, 9 novembre 2010, B et D (C‐57/09 et C‐101/09 précité). Le juge avait eu à cette occasion à interpréter les « clauses d’exclusion » de la protection telles que les définit l’article 12 de la directive 2004/83 dite « qualification ». Elle avait eu aussi à se pencher sur les conséquences à en tirer quant à un titre de séjour, comme l’on en a traité déjà vu ici (CJUE, 24 juin 2015, H.T, C-373/13).

Le 31 janvier, le problème posé était sensiblement différent, à plusieurs égards. Le requérant, Mostafa Lounani, s’était vu reconnaître, en appel et en 2010, la qualité de réfugié par le Conseil belge du contentieux des étrangers, au motif de sa crainte de persécution en cas de retour dans son pays d’origine.

Inscrit sur la liste antiterroriste des Nations Unies depuis 2002, ce ressortissant marocain avait été condamné en 2006 en Belgique à une peine de six ans d’emprisonnement pour « participation aux activités d’un groupe terroriste », en l’occurrence un réseau islamique, ceci en tant que membre dirigeant. Il participait en effet à l’activité d’une cellule apportant son soutien logistique à un mouvement terroriste envoyant des « combattants étrangers » en Irak. L’activité terroriste incriminée se situait donc ici sur le territoire de l’Union, à l’inverse de l’affaire B. et D.

Pourtant, le juge national des étrangers estimait que les faits spécifiquement reprochés à M. Lounani ne constituaient pas des infractions terroristes en tant que telles, sa condamnation ayant été prononcée pour son « appartenance » à un groupe terroriste et non pour la commission précise et individualisée d’un acte terroriste. Selon le juge interne, aucun des agissements pour lesquels M. Lounani avait été condamné n’atteignait le degré de gravité requis pour être qualifié d’« agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies » au sens de la directive 2004/83, ce pourquoi le juge avait refusé de modifier sa position, malgré une première censure par le Conseil d’Etat.

Plutôt que de poursuivre un bras de fer inutile avec le Conseil du contentieux des étrangers, le Conseil d’Etat belge désirait donc savoir dans quelles conditions un demandeur de protection peut être exclu du statut de réfugié pour des « agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies » lorsqu’il a fait l’objet d’une condamnation pénale pour participation aux activités d’un groupe terroriste, sans avoir lui-même commis un acte de terrorisme. Il avait donc saisi la Cour de justice à titre préjudiciel sur ce point.

Répondre à cette interrogation impliquait de mobiliser à la fois le droit de l’Union applicable aux réfugiés mais aussi celui relatif au terrorisme et, notamment, la décision-cadre 2002/475 dont l’article 1er liste les « infractions terroristes », le tout à la lumière du droit de Genève. Conclure à la coïncidence de l’article 12 §2 de la directive 2004/83 et de l’article 1er F de la Convention de Genève était donc l’enjeu de l’arrêt rendu le 31 janvier. Une lecture commune des « agissements contraires aux buts et principes des Nations Unies » figurant dans les deux textes aurait ainsi établi une passerelle susceptible de stigmatiser les actes terroristes mais aussi la participation aux activités d’un réseau terroriste.

Le juge a donc été en charge d’opérer les rappels nécessaires au droit, au plan interne américain comme au plan européen.

3. La complémentarité des protections juridictionnelles

Paradoxalement et bien qu’ils aient été saisis dans un contexte qui n’est absolument pas comparable, le juge interne américain et européen ont, à quelques jours près, et la coïncidence est remarquable, parlé le même langage : celui de la légitimité de la défense de l’Etat dans un contexte terroriste, couplée à son caractère démocratique.

a) – la protection offerte par le juge interne

Si elle a défrayé bruyamment la chronique en ce qu’elle a tenu en échec un président nouvellement élu auquel elle infligeait un démenti cinglant, l’intervention du juge fédéral américain est, quasiment pour l‘essentiel, située sur le terrain du droit interne. Elle est, à ce titre, largement approuvée par la doctrine américaine et la presse. Elle n’en est pas moins instructive quant à la haute image que le juge se fait de sa fonction.

L’Etat de Washington et celui de Minnesota ayant eu gain de cause dans un premier temps devant un juge fédéral avec la suspension de l’Executive order, le 3 février 2017, l’appel de Donald Trump formé devant la Cour d’appel de San Francisco était particulièrement attendu, par les observateurs comme par les milliers de personnes touchées par la mesure. Ce dernier a conduit à un débat contentieux centré sur des questions de nature constitutionnelle, tranché par un rejet de l’appel prononcé à l’unanimité (State of Washington, State of Minnesota V. Donald J. Trump No. 17-35105).

L’essentiel de l’enjeu, aux yeux de la quinzaine d’Etats, des 130 entreprises et des 300 professeurs de droit s’étant transformés en « amicus curiae », était moins d’ordre conventionnel que constitutionnel : quel contrôle judiciaire effectuer sur une telle décision de l’exécutif, au risque de transgresser la séparation des pouvoirs comme ce dernier le défendait devant la Cour ?

La réponse unanime de la Cour d’appel est sans détours. Elle renvoie solennellement aux composantes d’un Etat de droit : « there is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy ».

A cet égard, elle devrait calmer les ardeurs des partisans de la poursuite de la querelle devant la Cour suprême : « although our jurisprudence has long counseled deference to the political branches on matters of immigration and national security, neither the Supreme Court nor our court has ever held that courts lack the authority to review executive action in those arenas for compliance with the Constitution. To the contrary, the Supreme Court has repeatedly and explicitly rejected the notion that the political branches have unreviewable authority over immigration or are not subject to the Constitution when policymaking in that context ». En d’autres termes, « it is beyond question that the federal judiciary retains the authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges to executive action ».

La question centrale pour notre propos, celle de la situation contentieuse des demandeurs de protection et de la violation évidente du principe de non-discrimination, a donc été largement évitée, même si elle était lourdement mise en avant par les Etats fédérés et diverses associations.

Néanmoins, conscient de la gravité des enjeux et des conséquences individuelles du texte, le juge d’appel est visiblement préoccupé par la facilité avec laquelle le terrorisme fournit un alibi facile aux gouvernants pour porter atteinte aux principes fondamentaux. S’il se borne à quelques remarques qui font mouche, au point de laisser douter de l’utilité d’un recours au juge constitutionnel, il n’en démonte pas moins ouvertement la crédibilité des arguments avancés pour adopter le « Muslim Ban », multipliant les allusions directes à l’absence de démonstration probante d’une menace terroriste par ses auteurs.

Quant à la discrimination religieuse que niait l’exécutif malgré de nombreux propos publics tenus lors de la campagne électorale, la Cour note l’importance des griefs soulevés par les Etats sur ce terrain constitutionnel : « in light of the sensitive interests involved, the pace of the current emergency proceedings, and our conclusion that the Government has not met its burden of showing likelihood of success on appeal on its arguments with respect to the due process claim, we reserve consideration of these claims until the merits of this appeal have been fully briefed ».

Quant au sérieux de la motivation de l’Executive order, enfin, le juge fédéral est cruel pour son auteur : « the Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States. Rather than present evidence to explain the need for the Executive Order, the Government has taken the position that we must not review its decision at all. We disagree, as explained above ».

De façon plus générale, à l’instant de mettre en balance intérêt général et intérêts individuels, « the Government has not shown that a stay is necessary to avoid irreparable injury …. Although we agree that “the Government’s interest in combating terrorism is an urgent objective of the highest order …, the Government has done little more than reiterate that fact. Despite the district court’s and our own repeated invitations to explain the urgent need for the Executive Order to be placed immediately into effect, the Government submitted no evidence to rebut the States’ argument that the district court’s order merely returned the nation temporarily to the position it has occupied for many previous years ».

La coupe est alors pleine : « finally, in evaluating the need for a stay, we must consider the public interest generally… Aspects of the public interest favor both sides, as evidenced by the massive attention this case has garnered at even the most preliminary stages. On the one hand, the public has a powerful interest in national security and in the ability of an elected president to enact policies. And on the other, the public also has an interest in free flow of travel, in avoiding separation of families, and in freedom from discrimination. We need not characterize the public interest more definitely than this; when considered alongside the hardships discussed above, these competing public interests do not justify a stay ».

b) – l’interprétation extensive du juge de l’Union

Incapable de se plier à ses propres décisions de relocalisation des réfugiés, l’Union est encore bien loin de tels débats… Une toute autre logique anime donc la Cour de justice dans l’affaire Lounani où il lui revenait de délimiter le champ d’application de la protection offerte par le statut de réfugié, en cas de lien de son bénéficiaire avec le terrorisme et ceci dans le silence de l’article 1er F de la convention de Genève à propos de la nature de ces liens. Interpréter les dispositions de ce droit de manière à ne pas entraver la lutte nécessaire des Etats contre le terrorisme, tel était le défi à relever et le message à leur adresser.

Lire les clauses d’exclusion du statut de réfugié de la directive 2004/83 de façon étroite, en les calquant sur les infractions terroristes énumérées dans l’article 1er §1 de la décision-cadre 2002/475/JAI était une option. Elle ne permettait pas de saisir la « participation » pour laquelle M. Lounani avait été condamné en Belgique. Au contraire, faire le choix d’interpréter ces clauses d’exclusion à la lumière de la Convention de Genève permettait d’élargir leur champ.

La Cour de justice va retenir cette démarche, le 31 janvier 2017, dans la droite ligne de sa jurisprudence antérieure (CJUE, 9 novembre 2010, B et D, C‐57/09 et C‐101/09, préc.  pt 78 ; CJUE 2 décembre 2014, A e.a., C-148/13 à C‐150/13, point 46). Parce que la directive 2004/83 se réfère expressément dans sa motivation et son article 12 §2 relatif à « l’exclusion » aux « agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies tels qu’ils figurent dans le préambule et aux articles 1er et 2 de la charte des Nations unies », il lui est facile de répondre. Cet article « correspond en substance à l’article 1er, section F, sous c), de la convention de Genève, lequel prévoit que les dispositions de cette convention ne seront pas applicables aux personnes dont on aura des raisons sérieuses de penser qu’elles se sont rendues coupables d’agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies (pt 43).

Le considérant 22 de la même directive renvoyant aux résolutions pertinentes des Nations Unies, il lui est également aisé de déduire de la résolution 1624 (2005) du Conseil de sécurité que les « agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies » ne se limitent pas aux « actes, méthodes et pratiques terroristes ». En effet, le Conseil de sécurité y invite les États, pour lutter contre le terrorisme, conformément aux obligations qui leur incombent en vertu du droit international, à priver d’asile et traduire en justice « quiconque prête appui au financement, à l’organisation, à la préparation ou à la commission d’actes de terrorisme, y concourt, y participe ou tente d’y participer, ou donne refuge à leurs auteurs » (pt 47). Postérieure à la décision-cadre 2002/475, la directive 2004/83 n’a donc pas entendu s’y référer et limiter son champ d’application à sa lumière.

Il restait alors à conclure sur le fait de savoir si des actes de « participation aux activités d’un groupe terroriste », tels que ceux ayant motivé la condamnation de M. Lounani, pouvaient relever de la cause d’exclusion alors même qu’il n’avait ni commis ni tenté ou menacé de commettre un acte de terrorisme. Ici, la Cour ne se laisse en rien brider par les débats en cours au Parlement européen relatifs à l’adoption de la directive remplaçant la décision-cadre 2002/475 et démontre, quasi-explicitement que le terrorisme ne saurait se réclamer de la protection du droit de l’Union.

Pour la Cour, il est acquis que la clause d’exclusion « ne saurait être limitée aux auteurs effectifs d’actes de terrorisme mais qu’elle peut également s’étendre aux individus qui se livrent à des activités de recrutement, d’organisation, de transport ou d’équipement bénéficiant à des personnes qui se rendent dans un Etat autre que leur Etat de résidence ou de nationalité dans le dessein, notamment, de commettre, d’organiser ou de préparer des actes de terrorisme » (pt 69). Elle estime que « la participation aux activités d’un groupe terroriste peut couvrir un large éventail de comportements d’un degré de gravité variable » (pt 71).

Evaluer l’impact de la condamnation pénale nationale s’avérait alors essentiel ici, d’aucuns estimant qu’elle valait automatiquement exclusion ou, a minima, « présomption réfragable » comme le gouvernement français l’avançait. La Cour a déjà rejeté cette conception dans sa jurisprudence précitée B. et D, relative au seul fait d’appartenance à une organisation terroriste, car les conditions d’exclusion présupposent un examen complet de toutes les circonstances propres à chaque cas individuel. Elle avait ainsi précisé que « l’autorité compétente doit notamment examiner le rôle qu’a effectivement joué la personne concernée dans la perpétration des actes en question, sa position au sein de l’organisation, le degré de connaissance qu’elle avait ou était censée avoir des activités de celle-ci, les éventuelles pressions auxquelles elle aurait été soumise ou d’autres facteurs susceptibles d’influencer son comportement » (pts 87 et 94).

La Cour de justice réitère ici ce point de vue en indiquant que l’exclusion ne peut avoir lieu qu’après « avoir procédé, pour chaque cas individuel, à une évaluation des faits précis dont elle a connaissance en vue de déterminer s’il existe des raisons sérieuses de penser que les actes commis par l’intéressé, qui remplit par ailleurs les critères pour obtenir le statut de réfugié, relèvent de ce cas d’exclusion » (pt 72).

Elle reprend à son compte implicitement à propos du cas Lounani la précision procédurale proposée par son avocat général, à savoir vérifier dans un premier temps si l’organisation en cause est une organisation terroriste avant d’évaluer les faits spécifiques imputés à la personne concernée (appréciation de la structure de l’organisation, de la position de la personne en son sein, de sa capacité à influencer les activités du groupe, de son implication dans la planification, la prise de décision ou la direction d’autres personnes en vue de commettre des actes de terrorisme…). En bref, il s’agit dans son esprit d’éviter la hâte avec laquelle, parfois, la lutte anti-terroriste s’affranchit des garanties procédurales individuelles.

Sur cette base, en l’espèce, sa conclusion est sans appel : « la circonstance, à la supposer établie, que le groupe dont M. Lounani était un membre dirigeant n’aurait pas perpétré d’acte de terrorisme ou que les volontaires souhaitant se rendre en Irak aidés par ce groupe n’auraient finalement pas commis de tels actes n’est, en tout état de cause, pas de nature à exclure que les agissements de M. Lounani puissent être considérés comme contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies » (pt 77). Il n’est donc pas exigé qu’il ait été l’instigateur ou l’acteur de l’infraction pour procéder à son exclusion.

Dans ce contexte, la prise en considération de la décision de justice nationale est particulièrement pertinente, sans pour autant transformer la directive 2004/83 en instrument d’application de la lutte contre le terrorisme en mécanisant l’appréciation de l’Etat. Cette décision « revêt, dans le cadre de l’évaluation individuelle à laquelle doit procéder l’autorité compétente, une importance particulière » mais elle conserve intact en l’état le pouvoir d’évaluation de la situation à l’instant de se prononcer.

Au total, en ce début d’année et à l’inverse de ce qu’il est souvent avancé, le juge interne comme européen révèle ici la richesse de son office, malgré un contexte de crise sécuritaire particulièrement lourd : garantir les intérêts de la défense de la société, dans le cadre démocratique d’une Communauté et d’un Etat de droit. Faut-il vraiment se féliciter que l’actualité lui ait fourni l’occasion de nous le rappeler ?

Continue reading

Human & humanitarian smugglers: Europe’s scapegoat in the ‘refugee crisis’

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

by Rachel Landry, Fellow for Refugee Policy, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School

In the middle of one night in January 2016, Salam Aldeen received what had now become a routine call regarding boats in distress off of the coast of Greece. Since co-founding Team Humanity, a volunteer rescue organisation, in September 2015, Aldeen had responded to distress calls from approximately 200 boats with a total of approximately 10,000 refugees on board. As per protocol, Aldeen informed the Greek coast guard that he was going out in search of the boats. Yet on this particular evening, Aldeen and the four other volunteer lifeguards with him never reached the refugees in need of rescue.

When a military ship came threateningly close to their rescue boat, they altered course and headed back to shore. Before they reached land, two military vessels and the Greek coast guard surrounded them, ultimately arresting them and confiscating their boat. Their alleged crime: human smuggling. Their actions: attempting to fulfil the widely acknowledged duty to rescue at sea. Aldeen was released from prison after paying a significant fee, but is unable to leave Greece and is required to check in weekly with the Greek authorities. He awaits trial and faces up to ten years in prison.

The arrest of Aldeen and the four volunteers is far from unique. Deeply entangled within the EU’s robust fight against human smuggling in the current ‘refugee crisis’ is the threat of criminalisation of a range of humanitarian acts, which should not be punished but rather praised. The European Commission (EC) has rhetorically acknowledged the importance of ‘avoiding risks of criminalisation of those who provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in distress’, yet the actions of individual Member States suggest otherwise.

The EC is scheduled to release a proposal by the end of 2016 to ‘improve the existing EU legal framework to tackle migrant smuggling’. As such, it has been reviewing Council Directive 2002/90/EC of 28 November 2002 defining the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residence (Facilitation Directive), legislation that governs human smuggling in addition to other acts facilitating the transit and stay of irregular migrants. Given the much-needed review of the Facilitation Directive and the current strategy to combat abhorrent and ‘humanitarian’ acts of smuggling alike, it is a critical moment to reflect upon the moral quality and complexities of human smuggling.

I offer five observations as a preliminary framework for considering the deficiencies in the Facilitation Directive and where the boundary between blameworthy acts of smuggling and blameless acts of ‘humanitarian smuggling’ should be drawn. These observations stem from my recently published research through the Refugee Studies Centre, The ‘humanitarian smuggling’ of refugees: Criminal offence or moral obligation?

  1.       Combatting human smuggling and all humanitarian acts construed as such are in service of the larger goals of deterring and securitising irregular migration.

The EU is employing all possible tactics to deter refugees and migrants from attempting to reach its Member States’ shores – from the United Nations Security Council Resolution permitting EU security forces to intercept vessels suspected of human smuggling off the coast of Libya, to the deployment of NATO warships in the Aegean Sea, to the EU-Turkey deal to send those arriving irregularly back to Turkey. These policies of deterrence and securitisation are neither ad hoc nor unprecedented. Rather, they are integral to EU law governing irregular migrants and those who assist them.

Notably, the Facilitation Directive is first and foremost concerned with deterring irregular migration. As the first paragraph of the Directive states: ‘[o]ne of the objectives of the European Union is the gradual creation of an area of freedom, security, and justice, which means, inter alia, that illegal immigration must be combatted’. Prohibiting the facilitation of irregular entry is merely one means to combat irregular migration. As Spena argues, ‘[p]aradoxical as it may seem, in the Facilitation Directive’s approach, smuggling, as a form of facilitation, is only wrongful in an ancillary way, as if it was only a form of complicity in the real wrong which is the wrong of irregular migration’. The focus on deterring irregular migration produces a disregard for the smuggled migrants themselves, highlighted by the fact that the Directive does not define its relationship to international human rights or refugee law.

  1.     The Facilitation Directive, as transposed into national law, permits the criminalisation of genuinely humanitarian acts.  

The infringements set out in the Facilitation Directive mirror its expansive intent to sanction, most regularly through criminal law, a wide range of activities that may support irregular migration. Article 1.1.a stipulates that Member States:

shall adopt appropriate sanctions on: any person who intentionally assists a person who is not a national of a Member State to enter, or transit across, the territory of a Member State in breach of the laws of the State concerned on the entry or transit of aliens.  

Article 1.2 includes an optional ‘humanitarian clause’, which applies only to Article 1.1a such that ‘[a]ny Member State may decide not to impose sanctions…where the aim of the behaviour is to provide humanitarian assistance to the person concerned’.

The majority of Member States have transposed Article 1.1a expansively, permitting the criminalisation of a broad range of individuals facilitating irregular entry – from members of smuggling rings putting refugees in deliberate danger to volunteers rescuing refugees in peril at sea. The optional humanitarian exemption ultimately permits the criminalisation of what seems to be a limitless spectrum of activity at the national level, failing to enable subjects to orientate their behaviour accordingly and even prohibiting ethically defensible, if not praiseworthy, acts like those of Aldeen. According to a 2014 report by the Fundamental Rights Agency, the optional ‘humanitarian clause’ has been explicitly transposed in a variety of forms at the national level in only eight Member States.

  1.        The historic example of the rescue of the Danish Jews during World War II clearly illustrates, with the benefit of hindsight, the moral necessity and praiseworthiness of certain acts of smuggling.

The current ‘refugee crisis’ is regularly referred to as the largest crisis since World War II. Equally, international cooperation to resettle refugees in the aftermath of WWII is frequently invoked as a response that should be emulated today. Less frequently invoked, however, are those ‘humanitarian smugglers’known today simply as heroes – who rescued Jews from persecution long before the international community stepped in.

In 1943, 95% of the Jewish population in Denmark was able to escape deportation to concentration camps, in large part due to the collective action of fellow citizens and the Danish resistance movement. When the Nazi regime formalised the order to deport Danish Jews to concentration camps in September 1943, within two weeks Danes mobilised to successfully smuggle more than 7,200 Danish Jews and 680 non-Jewish family members to safety in Sweden, predominantly by way of Danish fishermen.

Those individuals who effectively evacuated almost the entire Jewish population out of Denmark not only made an assessment of the likely consequences and certainty of the impending harm for the Danish Jews if they did not act, but also accepted significant risks to their own lives as a result of their actions. If caught by the Nazis, those who aided and abetted Jews faced criminalisation and even possibly execution. The heroic rescue of the Danish Jews from impending deportation to concentration camp is but one reminder of the historical continuity, praiseworthiness, and unfortunate necessity of ‘humanitarian smuggling’.

  1.     The drafters of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) considered including a safeguard against penalisation for individuals assisting refugees to cross borders irregularly on humanitarian grounds.

Under certain circumstances, Article 31 of the Refugee Convention provides that presumptive refugees may cross borders irregularly and nevertheless be exempt from punishment. The drafters recognised that given the unique and vulnerable predicament of refugees, a refugee may have no choice but to cross borders irregularly and should not be penalised for doing so.

In light of the expansive scope of the Facilitation Directive and the threatened criminalisation of humanitarians like Aldeen, it may come as a surprise that some of the drafters – in particular the Swiss government – recognised that safeguards should exist not only for refugees, but also their rescuers. According to the French representative, organisations assisting refugees to reach safety were engaging in ‘an obvious humanitarian duty’. The French government was nevertheless opposed to modifying the language of Article 31, fearing it would encourage refugee organisations to become ‘organisations for the illegal crossing of frontiers’. Similarly, the United States representative acknowledged that the failure to include a safeguard for those proving humanitarian assistance to refugees irregularly crossing borders might be ‘a possible oversight in the drafting of the article’. Yet, the United States government did not support including protections for those providing assistance.

There is, of course, no safeguard for ‘humanitarian smugglers’ in the Refugee Convention. Yet, there was a recognition that governments should not – and a false assumption that they would not – criminalise those assisting refugees for humanitarian reasons.

  1.     The November 2015 landmark Supreme Court of Canada case, R. v. Appulonappa, may set a legal precedent for a more narrowly drafted smuggling offence in the Facilitation Directive to decriminalise ‘humanitarian smugglers’.

The November 2015 Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) case, R v. Appulonappa, sets a legal precedent for a narrower smuggling prohibition. The SCC ruled that its law criminalising smuggling, S. 117 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, was overbroad and should be ‘read down…as not applying to persons providing humanitarian aid to asylum-seekers or to asylum-seekers who provide each other mutual aid (including aid to family members)’. S. 117 is not dissimilar to Article 1.1 of the Facilitation Directive in that it theoretically criminalises anyone who facilitates irregular entry, regardless of motive or the means by which the act is carried out.

The SCC ruled that S. 117 exceeded its legislative intent of criminalising organised crime: ‘[a] broad punitive goal that would prosecute persons with no connection to and no furtherance of organised crime is not consistent with Parliament’s purpose’. Possible amendments to S. 117 may serve as a model for a more narrowly drafted prohibition that more accurately delineates between blameless and blameworthy acts of smuggling.

Conclusion

These five observations offer entry points into the moral complexities of human smuggling and the legal imperative of decriminalising humanitarian acts of the facilitation of irregular entry. Ultimately, if the EC intends to provide recommendations to amend the Facilitation Directive that reflect the need to avoid criminalising humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants, it will first need to more narrowly and clearly define acts of the facilitation of irregular entry worthy of criminalisation. The EC’s challenge lies with the fact that the primary purpose of the Facilitation Directive is to deter irregular migration and a narrower directive would ultimately undermine this objective.

In the current crisis, human smugglers – and all individuals deemed as such – have become Europe’s scapegoat. Targeting human smugglers worthy of criminalisation and those ‘humanitarian smugglers’ worthy of praise is Europe’s Band-Aid solution to a problem that can only be solved through safe and legal pathways for refugees to reach Europe.

 

Establishing the European Border and Coast Guard: all-new or Frontex reloaded?

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS (NB emphasis are added)

by Herbert Rosenfeldt, (Research Assistant and PhD candidate, University of Passau)

Introduction

Attending a birthday party at a remote checkpoint at the Bulgarian external border with Turkey does not sound like fun. Unless you are the adventurous type, you would probably hesitate to join in if it was not for someone special. Indeed, last Thursday high ranking EU and Member States’ officials visited Bulgaria’s Kapitan Andreevo Border Checkpoint to inaugurate the new European Border and Coast Guard Agency a.k.a. Frontex.

This is so far the most visible sign of the coming into force of the European Border and Coast Guard Regulation on the same day. Not lacking pathos or high expectations (Donald Tusk: “To save Schengen, we must regain control of our external borders. A new European Border and Coast Guard Agency is being created”), the new EBCG seeks to reinforce external border control against the background of last year’s migratory pressure put on the southern and south-eastern EU Member States with external Schengen borders. According to EU officials’ analyses, national border guards had been unable or unwilling to “protect” the Schengen area effectively by stopping the influx of irregular migrants. Frontex, on the other hand, was held to have been too ill-equipped in terms of powers, personnel and equipment to render sufficient support or remedy the situation. There is a simple, perhaps simplistic, rationale behind the new EBCG – one that gathered broad consensus among Member States and EU institutions resulting in a fast track legislative procedure of less than a year. The stronger EU external border control, the less permeable borders are for migrants; the smaller the number of migrants arriving, the smaller the problems within the Schengen area. Those problems comprise allocating asylum seekers and processing their claims, providing food and shelter, or safeguarding internal security and freedom of movement. The focus on external borders has been accurately criticised, inter alia, here and here.

Is the new EBCG truly a “milestone in the history of European border management”, as suggested by birthday guests but contested by others? Is the new agency something special at all? Hence is it worth joining the congratulants (if belatedly)? What birthday wishes should be made? Surely only time and further in-depth analysis can tell. Steve’s earlier post here gave the broader picture of last year’s legislative proposals on border control and migration. For now, and after two preliminary thoughts, I would like firstly to make some observations on the changing concept of EU external border management. Secondly, I highlight some institutional changes. Thirdly and fourthly, I will focus on two much debated novelties in external border control: emergency interventions and the complaints mechanism in the context of Fundamental Rights accountability.

Towards Securitisation

The drafters of the new regulation were discernibly concerned by the loss of control at Europe’s southern and south-eastern borders. Adapting to the ongoing political discourse, the wording of the Regulation (Article 1, see also Articles 4 and 15) gives top priority to regaining and keeping control of the migration situation and to efficient border management. Migration challenges and potential future threats are mentioned in succession, followed by serious cross-border crimes. The aim to be achieved is a high level of internal security within the Union while safeguarding the free movement of persons within it. In a subtle way, this almost equates migratory pressure through irregular migration with potential threats to internal security and cross-border crime. In further construing Article 1 of the Regulation, it appears that affording international protection and protecting human rights are clearly no objectives of European border management. Rather, they are perceived as restrictions to securing EU borders.

Another feature of this security-orientated approach is new migration management support teams to be deployed in hotspot areas (Article 18). Support in processing asylum claims and returning third country nationals does not help to protect the Schengen area from migrants at first sight. However, if it is done rapidly in hotspot areas, migrants are effectively not entering the Schengen area, hence apparently more security. Along the same line of reasoning, increased capacities to support return operations (Article 18, 28 et seq.) reflect political demand for enforcing third country nationals’ returns.

Legal instruments rearranged

The law of EU external border control is no role model for legal clarity and certainty. Legal acts such as the Frontex Regulation have frequently been amended, and they are intertwined with various other EU legal acts. The new Regulation at least partly smoothes this scattered landscape by merging the Frontex Regulation and the Regulation on Rapid Border Intervention Teams into one. Furthermore, the Schengen Borders Code has been amended (see below). Although based on the same EU competence (Article 77 (2) (d) TFEU), applied at the external Schengen borders and closely related to the work of Frontex and the national external border guards, Regulations on EUROSUR and surveillance of the external sea borders remained untouched. Hence the legislator missed the opportunity to create a single comprehensible piece of legislation apart from the SBC, the latter covering other subject matters such as entry conditions of third country nationals and internal border controls anyway.

New concept of external border controls

Before, States with external Schengen borders were exclusively tasked with policing those borders. Under the Frontex Regulation, border control fell into the sole competence of the Member States. Frontex’s main task then was to render border control more effective by coordinating Member States’ joint activities and providing surveillance data, technical support and expertise. The common conceptual framework informing border controls, called “integrated management system for external borders” (now Article 77 (1) (c) TFEU), only featured in strategy papers and policy recommendations of the Commission and the Council such as the non-binding Updated Schengen Catalogue 2009.

The new EBCG consists of the EBCG Agency and the national border and coast guards. Although Member States retain primary responsibility for border management, there is a clear shift towards responsibility shared with the Agency (Article 5 of the Regulation). On scrutiny, the new system arranges the Agency and the Member States in a hierarchical order. It is the Agency’s task to establish a technical and operational strategy for integrated border management. All national strategies will have to comply with it. Although co-operation outside the Agency’s remit remains possible, this is limited to action compatible with the Agency’s activities. Therefore, there is not just well-known supremacy of EU law at work in this area of shared competences, but supremacy of the Agency’s strategies, broadly phrased tasks and objectives. On paper (see the eighth and eleventh recitals), the political development of integrated border management is left to the EU organs, whereas technical and operational aspects will be clarified by the Agency. The dividing line is of course far from clear. As a result, the Agency will almost inevitably assume a more proactive role.

In my view, shared responsibility serves as a chiffre to justify taking away Member States’ discretionary powers in border control. In practice, the Agency gains greater impact and tools of supervision and coercion, as will be seen below. Still, the new Regulation has to be given credit for legally defining components of European integrated border management for the first time ever.

Institutional changes

In short, Frontex becomes … erm … Frontex! Despite last week’s “all-new” rhetoric, little will change in the constitutional setting of the Agency. As a decentralised (i.e. regulatory) agency it remains an independent EU body with legal personality. Its headquarters will remain in Warsaw. The Agency’s official name, which nobody used before, changes to a shorter name, which probably nobody will use going forwards – and that is alright because it reflects that the Agency is not founded anew but continues all its activities, albeit with expanded tasks and more resources.

To this end, the Agency’s staff grows from 309 in 2015 to 1,000 in 2020. The number of Member States’ border guards deployed in EBCG teams remain subject to annual bilateral negotiations. At the same time, a rapid reaction pool of 1,500 European border guards as a standing corps operational within 5 days has been inscribed in the Regulation. The Agency continues to maintain a technical equipment pool composed of equipment owned by either the Agency itself or by the Member States. With an increase in budget to more than twice the amount of 2015 (€143.3 to €322 million in 2020), the Agency might actually start acquiring equipment on its own in the future.

Of the Agency’s tasks (see the long list in Article 8 (1) of the Regulation), most have been assigned to Frontex before. Characteristic of the new supervisory role are vulnerability assessments carried out by the Agency to evaluate the capability and readiness of Member States’ border guard to act in emergencies. The assessment might lead to binding recommendations by the Executive Director. To disregard them can eventually result in a situation requiring urgent action as described further below. Moreover, Frontex shall deploy liaison officers in the Member States monitoring and reporting on national external border management. It is true that command and control in EBCG operations remains with the host Member State. However, from now on, the host Member State has not only to consider the Frontex coordinating officer’s views, but also to follow them as far as possible.

Another noteworthy development concerns the Agency’s support rendered to Member States coping with migratory pressure at so-called hotspots. The existing provisions on hotspots in EU Decisions on relocation of asylum-seekers have been codified in Article 18 of the Regulation, which now assigns a supportive role to Frontex in migration management. This includes screening, registering and providing information to third country nationals on their right to apply for international protection. It further includes facilitating their return right from the hotspot area.

One might argue that the European Asylum Support Office is better placed to do all that. However, in my opinion the crucial question is to what extent any EU agency involved influences or determines the Member States’ decisions on entry, to afford international protection or to return migrants. Such executive powers have not been granted to EU institutions and therefore – at least by law – they remain firmly within the Member States’ jurisdiction. The provisions provide for tailor-made support teams coordinated by all relevant Union agencies under the auspices of the Commission. Thus, the new Regulation acknowledges the role of agencies and the significance of hotspots without clarifying much. It remains to be seen how the agencies will delineate their respective contributions. If you have always been looking for a legal definition of hotspot area, at least you will find one in the new Regulation (Article 2 (10)).

Situations requiring urgent action – right to intervene?

How to deal with emergency situations at the external borders of Member States unwilling to act – that was the only matter of serious contention during the legislative process. In normal operation and as before, a Member State at first formally requests the Agency’s support and the launch of EBCG operations (Articles 14 (1), 15 (1) and (2), 18 (1) et al). At the second stage, the Member State and the Executive Director agree on the operational plan (Article 16 (2)). Lastly, the host Member State itself retains command for the whole operation (Article 21 (1)). The Commission proposal for the Regulation challenged those safeguards for the Member States’ sovereign right to border protection. The Commission envisaged itself initiating emergency interventions conducted by the Agency and supported by the Member State concerned. Boldly, this was labelled the Agency’s “right to intervene”. Understandably, it stirred criticism among Member States.

The subsequent trilogue put things in order again: Now it is an implementing act of the Council (proposed by the Commission) which substitutes the Member State’s request at the first stage if (a) the State did not follow the recommendations resulting from vulnerability assessments or (b) it faces specific and disproportionate challenges at his external borders without requesting or supporting joint EBCG operations (Article 19 (1)). The implementing act of the Council authorises the Agency to take various measures. It is binding upon the Member State. In turn, it becomes evident that the Member State’s formal request in accordance with the normal procedure might no longer be as voluntary as the wording suggests. Because if joint European action is deemed necessary, there is always the possibility that an emergency intervention will eventually be initiated.

Yet, at the second stage, the Member State still has to agree on the operational plan submitted by the Agency (Article 19 (5)). This might be interpreted as linking emergency interventions to the Member State’s consent after all. However, in the light of the purpose of emergency interventions, I submit that the duty to fully comply with the Council decision and to this end cooperate with the Agency entails the duty to consent to the operational plan. Otherwise, it would always be possible for reluctant Member States to impede the whole procedure depriving it of much of its force.

For the implementation of the measures prescribed by the Council, the Member State concerned still acts as host state. As a consequence, that State retains command and control of the operations and can be held liable as in normal operations. It can be questioned whether an unwilling State should be forced to lead a joint operation in times of emergency. At the same time, however, it is most likely that different entities will be engaged in the process. The decision not to conduct operations or to request assistance is often taken at a high political level, whereas operational command is exercised within the national border guard authorities.

Lastly, Article 19 (10) most remarkably links the Member State’s non-compliance with the Council decision and failure to cooperate with the Agency to prospective national measures taken within the Schengen area. According to newly amended Article 29 of the Schengen Borders Code, the Council upon proposal by the Commission may recommend to Member States the reintroduction of controls at their internal borders if the Member State’s behaviour (a) puts the functioning of the area without internal borders at risk, and (b) leads to a serious threat to public policy or internal security. This mechanism can be triggered only 30 days after the Council takes its (urgent?!) decision. As a result, Member States that do not – for whatever reason – cooperate at their external borders in emergencies can de facto be temporarily excluded from the area of free movement. The much-stressed concept of solidarity (Article 80 TFEU) hence turns into its evil twin: showing solidarity means complying with the EBCG activities à la EU. It becomes the prerogative of the EU institutions to determine who is in solidarity, and the lack thereof entails serious consequences.

In sum, the new Regulation establishes a legal obligation to cooperate in situations requiring urgent action of the Member State concerned. If the State does not comply, there is no way to enforce this duty or to deploy EBCG teams on his territory against his will. The only sanction seems to urge other Member States to close their internal borders instead.

Human Rights complaints mechanism and accountability

When Frontex was established in 2004, the Fundamental Rights (FR) implications of its work had been completely overlooked. The founding Regulation did not contain any specific references to FR. Over the following years through a piecemeal approach, largely affirmative and declaratory FR obligations found their way into the Regulation. More importantly, Frontex drew up an FR strategy (followed by an action plan) in 2011. At the same time, a consultative forum and an FR officer were established to give advice on FR matters and strengthen FR compliance. With the new Regulation, there are minor improvements on the human rights record. Article 1 now mentions FR, they form part of compulsory reporting and evaluation schemes as set out in the operational plan, and there is a single comprehensive provision spelling out FR obligations (Article 34).

The Regulation finally introduces a FR complaints mechanism (Article 72, discussed here) as demanded by European Parliament, EU Ombudsman and Council of Europe since 2013. Any person directly affected by actions of staff during EBCG operations can file a complaint about FR violations with the FR officer. The FR officer is responsible for setting up the complaints mechanism, administering complaints and deciding on their admissibility. He or she then directs them to either the Executive Director or the competent national authority for them to decide on the merits and an appropriate follow-up. The FR officer then again monitors this decision as well as the follow-up.

In my view, the effectiveness of the mechanism depends on two preconditions. Firstly, the FR officer’s resources should increase significantly to stem the Herculean tasks ahead of him. Secondly, his institutional independency within the Agency has to be reinforced, bearing in mind that he is a member of staff and dependent on good working relationships with other members of staff. Several open questions remain. For example, the provision leaves open how the FR officer will enforce the appropriate follow-up by the Agency or the Member States. It does not make clear that the complaints mechanism does not affect other remedies, nor does it foresee an appeals procedure with an independent body. The FR officer and ultimately the Executive Director or the Member States authorities will have to answer difficult legal questions on who is “directly affected” by an action and who is responsible for it (see below). For the development of the law, it would have been better if a court or tribunal had had subsequent jurisdiction. So far, actions for annulment or damages (Articles 263, 268 TFEU) have not generated any EU case law regarding Frontex, and except for its judgment in Hirsi Jamaa, the ECtHR was not able to fill the gap neither.

“The extended tasks and competence of the Agency”, the 14th recital of the Regulation reads, “should be balanced with strengthened fundamental rights safeguards and increased accountability”. But does the new Agency live up to the claim? Apart from the complaints mechanism, the FR framework largely stays the same, and so does the general liability framework: The home Member State takes disciplinary action whereas the domestic laws of the host Member State determine criminal liability. It is also the host Member State incurring civil liability for the EBCG teams. The Agency itself incurs non-contractual liability according to the general principles of EU law (Article 340 (2) TFEU). There are no provisions determining which acts or effects of external border control are attributed to the Agency or to the Member States involved (a problem of multi-actor scenarios, where the 2011 ILC Articles on the Responsibility of International Organizations might be of help). Following recent revelations on the frequent use of firearms in joint operations, MEPs wrote to Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri asking for more information and general guidance on responsibilities in certain operational scenarios. The ignorance displayed by Frontex’s designated watchdogs (see Article 7 of the Regulation) is further evidence for the need of more transparency and legal clarity in this regard.

Outlook

On the 6th of October 2016 the landscape of EU external border control did not change dramatically, but it did change. To repeat: No new agency has been founded, no EBCG under EU command and control was established, no right to intervene at Member States’ external borders against their will has been introduced. In fact and most notably, the Member States’ external border guard is placed under increased scrutiny of the EBCG Agency. Failure to comply with integrated border management standards could eventually lead to reintroducing internal border controls to the detriment of the disobedient Member State. At the same time, the Agency’s enhanced tasks and powers will go hand in hand with more responsibility and accountability, but the latter has yet to be improved. Although the complaints mechanism is a step in the right direction, its design could have been more effective. This holds true especially for the follow-up mechanism. In practice, much will depend on the Fundamental Rights officer’s assertiveness on the one hand, and the Executive Director’s responsiveness on the other hand.

After all, the distinguished guests to the celebrations at Kapitan Andreevo Border Checkpoint last week did not witness birth or rebirth, but rather Frontex’s coming of age both in terms of leverage and responsibilities. Frontex, I wish you well indeed.

Dublin ‘reloaded’ or time for ambitious pragmatism?

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON OMNIA WEBSITE (12/10/16)

(Click here  to hear Francesco Maiani’s (Swiss Member of the Odysseus Network) intervention at the LIBE Committee of the European Parliament on this issue – 4:10 – 22:20)

While the largely failed relocation scheme of 2015 is still in force, the European Commission has put forward a proposal for revising the Dublin III Regulation. Since comments have already been made in the blogosphere (see Hruschka on this blog and Gauci) and a comprehensive study on the need to reform the system has been recently released by a member of the Odysseus Network and presented to the LIBE Committee of the European Parliament (see Maiani), this entry will not provide a general description of the proposal and focus instead on some selected aspects by putting forward some proposals to make the Dublin system less dysfunctional.

A plea against taboos and ‘conservative’ options

Many EU documents repeatedly underline that the Dublin system is a “cornerstone” of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). Indeed, taking into consideration Article 78(2) TFEU, there is a need to organise the distribution of responsibilities  since the competence for assessing claims and the  provision of protection lie with Member States.  Despite this, we should not let Dublin become a taboo, impermeable to discussions on its past and current contents. If the so-called ‘cornerstone’ is ill-conceived, the overall structure of the CEAS becomes unstable, unfair and ineffective.

Drawing from private international law terminology, we can say that the main objective of Dublin is to prevent positive and (most commonly) negative conflicts of jurisdiction, by rapidly determining a single responsible Member State (MS). Decades of legal thinking and state practice show that any set of rules (both domestic or international) allocating jurisdiction should be based on rational criteria and on a reasonable degree of connection (i.e. genuine link) between the competent State and the situation at stake. Although due consideration must be given to the fact that “asylum jurisdiction” is a peculiar field of law and that the interests at stake are specific to this area, decision makers must take into account the principles of rationality, fairness and compliance.

More than twenty years of implementation of the Dublin system (see Guild and othersHruschka and Maiani) showed that, as currently framed, Dublin simply does not work, both in normal periods and in times of crisis. Among other things, the fact that no reasonable room is given to consider asylum seekers’ preferences or their prospects for integration creates an evident trend against spontaneous compliance and towards secondary movements.

The deficient system generates high costs of different natures, such as:

(a) waste of public money in repressive actions and in administrative as well as judicial procedures not producing durable results;

(b) diplomatic tensions between Member States;

(c) profit-making for criminal networks providing smuggling services;

(d) social exclusion and frustration for asylum-seekers (potentially leading to human rights violations or various forms of criminality);

(e) lack of integration, with increased costs for social services and public expenditure.

Against this background, a fresh and innovative approach was expected when the EU institutions finally recognised in 2015 the need for a general overhaul of the Dublin III Regulation. However, the proposal that is now on the table does not envisage an overall reframing of the system, but a rather modest introduction of several corrections (some more significant than others) to a bad architecture that is not fundamentally questioned.

The criterion of the “Country of first entry” or “the irrational rationale

The first point of the proposal deserving severe critique regards the way in which the Commission treats the allocation criteria and, in particular, the insistence on the questionable criterion of the country of first entry. The explanatory memorandum of the proposal underlines that, according to some MS, the criterion of first entry must be preserved and that alternative connecting factors (such as personal preferences) would add confusion and give the wrong signal that asylum seekers can choose their country of final destination. In the meantime, it is acknowledged that other MSs and relevant stakeholders (for instance UNHCR, para. 6, at 7;  specialised NGOs such as ECRE and others) called for a different vision, focusing on the preferences or characteristics of asylum seekers (in  view of their speedy and satisfactory integration).

Yet, the explanatory memorandum merges the personal preferences and the characteristics of asylum seekers in the same concept, and uses the same rationale to discard both the ‘free choice’ approach and the ‘personal characteristics’ approach. To make my point clear, merely subjective preferences are different than objective personal characteristics (liable to increase prospects of integration in the host MS): while the ‘free choice’ approach may be swiftly questioned as a solution for allocating people (although it should not be summarily discarded, as recently advocated by Maiani, at 46-48), the verification of a reasonable connection with a country is a totally different issue. Even more surprisingly, the Commission seems to ignore the indications from other parts of EU secondary law. For instance, Recital No. 34 of Decision No. 2015/1601 (establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and Greece) clearly states that:

“The integration of applicants in clear need of international protection into the host society is the cornerstone [sic] of a properly functioning CEAS”.

Following the same logic, the provision on the safe third country concept (defined in the Asylum Procedures Directive) underlines that the latter may be applied only if due regard is given to the existence of “a connection between the applicant and the third country concerned on the basis of which it would be reasonable for that person to go to that country” [Article 38(2)(a)].

This being said, let us try to follow the reasoning of the Commission. What is the rationale behind the first country of entry criterion? Commentators agree on the fact that the drafters of the Dublin Convention and of the subsequent Dublin II and III Regulations intended to establish a linkage between the allocation of responsibility in the field of asylum and the respect of MS obligations in the protection of the EU external borders (as confirmed by the same communicationof April 2016, at 7). Put in another way, if a MS  lets an asylum seeker enter its territory, then it would be logical (sic!) to establish responsibility for assessing the asylum claim and, if the outcome is positive, to define that MS as the new place of residence for the beneficiary of international protection.

However, it is well known that the principle of non-refoulement is applicable on entry regardless of the efficiency of checks at the external borders. Likewise, the combined effect of current EU visa policy, EU carrier sanctions regimes and the nature of flows to Europe unavoidably overburdens frontline States (the number and identity of which may change in time). Thus, we can question whether the above mentioned rationale is…. rational! Or whether it is in line with the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility recognised in Article 80 TFEU. Would it perhaps sound malicious to advance the idea that this criterion and especially its continued maintenance are simply the result of the (undeclared) will of some MS to put the responsibility and the related burden of international protection on other MS?

A “genuine link” approach: not a panacea, but surely deserving of further enquiry

With the aim to be constructive, this article puts forward another approach for giving more weight to objective links between an asylum seeker and a given MS, which would favour his or her speedy and efficient integration. A series of objectively verifiable elements connecting an applicant with a certain MS can be proposed in order to establish the relevant jurisdiction, according to a ‘genuine link’ approach (see also here for further elaboration on this methodological proposal and on its potential benefits both for MSs and asylum seekers):

  • Wider family links: The Commission proposes to broaden the scope of ‘family members’ so as to include siblings, which is a positive step. In additional to that, taking into account the presence of relatives in a MS deserves a more careful consideration. In many countries of origin, relatives are as important in family life as core family members, due to the cultural concept of family and related moral obligations of mutual assistance and care. Besides, in occasions where the original nuclear family may be dispersed or deceased, the only form of family life available to the asylum seeker may be represented by a cousin, an aunt, a nephew or a grandparent. It is clear that this widened concept of family might be seen as “too generous” by MS, but considering wider family links for Dublin purposes should be at least further discussed. Some categories of relatives could also be included in the alternative criteria of verified sponsors (see below);
  • Language skills: Some States whose official language is widely spoken outside of Europe (for instance, English or French) might fear to be penalised by this criterion. Nevertheless, it could pragmatically work even for indicating a MS where the population in general and civil servants in particular are usually fluent with a second language (for instance, English in some northern European countries). In any case, a saving clause would apply in case of numbers exceeding a reasonable quota (see below);
  • Previous study or work experience in a given MS, or other forms of regular stay: If compared with the lack of any relevant “contact” with a national community, a previous regular residence is usually able to create a potential for integration (unless it is ascertained that during that stay anti-social behaviour occurred);
  • Verified private sponsorship: Apart from relatives, private individuals – be they EU nationals or third country nationals (TCN) regularly residing in the EU – may have a strong and verifiable personal link to an asylum seeker. In a globalised world, with plenty of transnational activities and personal mobility, a person may act as a sponsor for a TCN, for instance due to previous professional or personal exchange developed during a stay in Europe or in third countries. A similar reasoning might apply to non-profit organisations or firms, subject to some eligibility criteria. In the different setting of legal avenues to reach the EU, the Fundamental Rights Agency recently argued that private sponsorship is one of the most promising and under-exploited means (see here, at 6). Similarly, the Commission showed an interesting openness towards such an option (see theCommunication of April 2016, at 15-16). This possibility may cause some concern about possible risk of abuse, false declarations or coverage of illicit smuggling networks, but it should at least be the object of a serious and open minded discussion.
  • Existing legal tools facilitating the recognition of professional qualifications: The network of bilateral treaties already in force between MS and third countries of origin requires proper evaluation, because this could offer pragmatic solutions where the then protected person could easily play the role of an economic actor, instead of depending on social assistance.

One may question which of these factors is more suitable and which pre-requisites should be established to put them in place, but new paradigms need to be seriously explored in order to alter the current overall unsatisfactory performance of Dublin.

In the same vein, the quantitative impact of the proposed approach might be doubted. It must be acknowledged that no precise data are available and that no serious estimate may be done as to the impact of this proposal. Nevertheless, it is very likely that a large number of secondary movements is motivated by the intention to reach a country where some connections exist, so there is an evident normative need to set this empirical phenomena into a more credible legislative framework. The alternatives are to turn a blind eye (with no solution to the current problems to be expected) or to increase the sanctions regime for asylum seekers not complying with the current rules (a scenario that is even more debatable and problematic in the perspective of fundamental rights of asylum seekers: see  the post of Hruschka and the in-depth study of Maiani). By applying this new approach, some MS that are already under strain might become the responsible MS. To avoid undesired side effects, a saving clause might be connected to the overall system (see below).

Filters and corrections: the strange idea of treating persons as objects

As mentioned, the proposal does not change the main criteria for asserting jurisdiction, but it does introduce some novelties. Two of them seem particularly relevant here: the process at the early stages of the procedure (a kind of “pre-Dublin stage”) and the corrective mechanism, conceived as an evolution of the idea of a permanent scheme of relocation in times of emergency.

This pre-Dublin stage consists of a systematic assessment of the admissibility of the asylum claim, having regard to various deflective concepts (such a safe country of origin, first country of asylum, safe or ‘super safe’ third country, and a security screening of the applicant). These enquiries must be conducted by the first country of entry: only if the claim stands admissible, the enquiry into the Dublin criteria is carried out.

It must be observed that the two main actors (the asylum seeker and the national authorities) in this procedure are placed in a relationship of conflict: little chance seems to be left to the asylum seeker to actively participate in the procedure, and public officers are unavoidably perceived as hostile by him/her. This ‘applicant-unfriendly’ environment will not stimulate spontaneous compliance and full account of personal stories, thus generating systemic deficiencies.

The corrective mechanism is interesting, although in the current formulation is rather puzzling. A centralised system of registration of asylum claims will be put in place. Additionally, a reference key (composed of each MS’ GDP and population, each given 50% weighting) will determine which share of claims are assigned to each MS. The system will monitor in real time during the year the correspondence between the total number of asylum claims lodged in the EU and the division of them among the various MS. If a certain MS (MS#1) receives more than 150% of its assigned quota, then the corrective mechanism is automatically triggered. Additional asylum seekers will then be automatically assigned to other MS which are below their capacity (MS#2). If MS#2 refuses to take charge of an asylum seeker, a high amount has to be paid (€250,000 per person). The idea to impose a sanction (although the proposal uses a different vocabulary) on non-collaborative MS is not bad in principle, but it may be doubted that such an amount is proportionate.

Apart from that, what is really questionable is that the asylum seeker plays no role in this corrective procedure, and that the proposal does not indicate a method to identify MS#2. Maybe it is the MS which in that moment has the lowest performance of its assigned share? Or another MS? And in the latter case, will this be decided by a computer applying a casuistic algorithm? The proposal is incredibly ambiguous on this crucial point, and this “blind lottery approach” must be severely criticised. Again, people are treated as the object of procedures impinging on their lives: is all this human, rational and fair?

Finally, it must be taken into account that – even under the corrective mechanism – the overburdened State (MS#1) is, in any event, obliged to process the pre-Dublin stage and to conduct a dialogue with the assigned State regarding public security issues. To put it differently, there is no immediate relief for the overburdened State. Only after the person is moved to the automatically assigned MS#2, will this country verify the applicability of the Dublin criteria and then proceed with the subsequent steps (assessment of the claim or Dublin transfer to a MS#3). Thus, there is the possibility of a second mandatory movement: once again, is this rational? And cost-effective? And humane?

Time for ambitious pragmatism: Some ideas for EU policymakers

Drawing on the Commission proposal, it seems possible to improve some elements and reframe others. The purpose of the following suggestions is to reconcile the Dublin system with the authentic cornerstones of the CEAS (seeArticle 78(1) and also Article 80 of the TFEU) and with basic principles of rationality and fairness, both for MSs and applicants. To put it clearly, the proposal of the Commission is not all bad but it needs a robust correction.

Firstly, a permanent assessment of reception capacities (to be conducted through a reference key) and a centralised collection of all asylum claims (to be conducted as soon as possible) are highly needed. This idea of the proposal is good and should help to reduce instrumental and sterile political discussions. It is simply untenable that some MS must undergo a relevant pressure as frontline countries or as second-line favorite places of secondary movements while others give scarcely relevant support, or no support at all. It may be questioned which criteria should integrate the key and with which weight, but the overall idea is defensible.

Secondly, it is untenable to include a correction to an inherently bad system: the main standard criteria must be changed (in a similar vein, see Gauci). A primary role must be given to objectively verifiable preferences: after verification of admissibility of the claim (with full guarantees for the concerned applicant), an asylum seeker should be allocated to a given MS according to (wider) family links and other genuine links (see above). There would not be a simple or unqualified free choice of the applicant (as advocated by some NGOs): the applicant would be obliged to specify why a certain country is preferred and verification would be conducted by the interested MS.

It may be questioned if this solution would produce lengthy procedures or an excessive administrative burden on the first MS of entry. Well, this country is already obliged to conduct significant administrative activity under the pre-Dublin phase: a file is created, human resources are employed, time is spent on this activity and an interview is conducted. Is it so absurd to insert at such an early stage an ‘extra’ procedure aimed at showing a friendly face to the asylum seeker? One should also take into account that this extra procedure would be greatly facilitated by the asylum seeker’s cooperation, and that a different scenario would probably lead to a form of legal challenge by the asylum seeker, or his/her absconding. Would this be cost effective and desirable from a systematic point of view?

In this scenario, the asylum seeker would be asked to actively participate and to give clear indications regarding the presence of family members and of other connecting factors. In the case of several connected MSs (a circumstance which is not so probable), the choice could be left to the applicant.

In order to reassure MS whose asylum systems have undergone or are facing severe pressure (e.g. Germany or Sweden), if the competent State is already over its quota, the asylum seeker would be assigned to another (less) connected country, or only as extrema ratio to the State with the lowest performance rate of its share. In case of refusal of this MS to receive the concerned person, a proportionate financial disincentive should be established.

With the aim to reduce possible tensions coming from asylum seekers or from MS, a certain degree of freedom of movement of the beneficiary of protection should be accepted. If after recognition of refugee status or subsidiary protection by the designated MS, the person receives an effective job offer in another MS and security checks are fulfilled, the holder of international protection should have the possibility to accept this job offer, thus leading to a better allocation of the workforce. In this case, the issue should be raised as to whether, after voluntary establishment in another MS, protection duties should continue to bind the original MS or should be transferred to the second one, or whether such duties should simply cease.

Finally, a corrective emergency-mechanism should be conceived only for sudden and massive inflows and for supporting extremely precarious national asylum systems.

Do all these proposals look too innovative and unconventional? We all know perfectly what will happen if the Dublin system as it stands is maintained, or if only the limited ‘corrections’ set out in the Commission proposal are introduced. Should we wait for the next political crisis of the EU? Why not try to think of pragmatic and innovative way which could avoid tensions between MS, limit profits for smugglers as well as space for human rights abuses, avoid unnecessary sufferance, save public money and use human resources in a better way?

Continue reading

Meijers Committee on EU latest proposals on “Dublin”, Eurodac and European Asylum Agency.

ORIGINAL DOCUMENT ACCESSIBLE HERE

CM1609: Note on the proposed reforms of the Dublin Regulaton (COM (2016) 197), the Eurodac recast proposal (COM (2016) 272 fnal), and the proposal for an EU Asylum Agency (COM(2016)271 fnal)

Comments on the Dublin recast proposal

  1. General observatons

The Meijers Commitee would like to take this opportunity to comment on the proposed reform of the Dublin Regulaton, as set forth in the 6 April 2016 EC communicaton to the EP and Council (COM (2016) 197) and the 4 May 2016 proposal for a regulaton of the EP and Council establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an applicaton for internatonal protecton lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country natonal or a stateless person (recast) (COM (2016) 270). The later proposal will be further referred to here as Dublin III recast.

On page 4 of the 6 April 2016 communication, the Commission succinctly lists the shortcomings of the Dublin regulation: “difficulties in obtaining and agreeing on evidence proving a Member State’s responsibility for examining the asylum application, leading therefore to an increase in the number of rejections of requests to accept the transfer of applicants. Even where Member States accept transfer requests, only about a quarter of such cases result in effective transfers, and, after completion of a transfer, there are frequent cases of secondary movements back to the transferring Member State. The effectiveness of the system is further undermined by the current rules which provide for a shift of responsibility between Member States after a given time. […] A further impediment to the effective functioning of the Dublin system results from the difficulty in transferring applicants to Member States with systemic flaws in critical aspects of their asylum procedure or reception conditions. The effective suspension of Dublin transfers to Greece since 2011 has proved a particularly critical weakness in the system. […] The Common European Asylum System is also characterized by differing treatments of asylum seekers, including in terms of the length of asylum procedures or reception conditions across Member States, a situation which in turn encourages secondary movements.”

The Meijers Commitee wishes to add that Dublin’s ineffectiveness not only results from the difficulty of effectuating transfers but also from a general failure to initiate Dublin procedures, because asylum seekers have not been registered upon entering the EU. It is well known, not only that asylum seekers may seek to avoid registration, but that some Member States also disregard their obligation to register asylum seekers – some even on a large scale. It has been estimated, for example, that only half the persons entering Italy and applying for asylum somewhere in the EU were registered in that country1 In 2014, the proportion of physical Dublin transfers to the number of applicants for international protection in the EU was about 4 %, which suggests that Dublin is applied in far fewer cases than all those to which it is in fact applicable.2

To remedy these shortcomings, the Commission proposes two options: 1. Supplementing the present system with a corrective fairness mechanism, or 2. A new system for allocating asylum applications in the EU based on a distribution key. Because the second option would be difficult to envisage in the short or medium term, the Commission has chosen to pursue the first one.

The Meijers Commitee would frst of all like to point out that none of the shortcomings listed by the Commission will be remedied by the first opton, since it is essentally a contnuaton of the present Dublin system, which is demonstrably a failure. Why contnue with a broken system instead of fixing the shortcomings, even though this may not produce significant results in the short term? Additionally, the Meijers Committee points to the fact that the Dublin regulation was only very recently recast (19 July 2013), so this recast has been undertaken within 3 years of the entry into force of the last recast regulation, while that recast came 10 years after the entry into force of the Dublin II regulation.

The Meijers Commitee points out that at present there are two infringement procedures ongoing with regard to the Dublin regulation (in respect of Italy and Hungary), as well as four infringement procedures regarding the closely related Eurodac regulation (in respect of Croatia, Greece, Italy and Cyprus). Additionally, the Commission has recently sent a second supplementary letter to Greece expressing concerns over the persistence of serious deficiencies in the Greek asylum system, as well as a 10 February 2016 recommendation.

The belief that the Dublin system allocates responsibility unsustainability is widely held and is mentioned on page 3 of the explanatory memorandum to the Dublin III recast proposal. It is no coincidence that the infringement procedures mentoned above concern Member States on the EU’s external borders. These Member States have for a long tme complained that they cannot process the large numbers of asylum seekers entering the EU through their territories. While the suggested corrective fairness mechanism can go some way to remedy this situation, it will not change the fact that it is these Member States who will bear the brunt of new arrivals. The corrective fairness mechanism will not be triggered until a Member State has received 150% of the maximum allocated number of applications deemed fair on the basis of that State’s GDP and population size. This only partly corrects disproportionate burden sharing, without addressing the fundamental shortcomings of the Dublin system, namely that this system wrongly presupposes that the asylum procedures are adequate and up to standard in all Member States. On the contrary, Member States still continue to display systemic deficiencies, which make Dublin transfers impossible. As has been accepted by the ECtHR in several recent judgments, there are significant national differences in the quality of reception and asylum systems, which continue to exist and which encourage secondary movements.3 Additionally, the Commission must take stock of the fact that its similar attempt of September 2015 at such a mechanism has so far not been successful: of the 160,000 asylum-seekers who should have been relocated, only 1,500 (909 from Greece and 591 from Italy) have been relocated. The proposals under Dublin III recast do very little to address this unsustainable burden sharing, focusing instead on the risk of abuse of the rules laid down in the Dublin III regulation by individual asylum seekers, including their absconding.

  1. Detailed observatons

Continue reading

The Bratislava Declaration on migration: European irresponsibility instead of solidarity

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON OMNIA (Odysseus Network) SITE (27 Sep 2016)

By Phillippe De Bruycker (ULB/EUI) Evangelia (Lilian) Tsourdi (Max Weber Fellow, EUI)

The Bratislava Declaration refers on two occasions to “the principles of responsibility and solidarity”. The basic idea is to “broaden EU consensus” by devising a “long term migration policy” on the basis of the two principles.

At first look, this seems logical and even advisable. Since 2015, the EU has been unable to respond effectively to the ‘refugee crisis’. It is only the fragile ‘deal’ with Turkey that brought the illusion of a solution by externalising asylum provision to a third country. The EU remains profoundly divided about possible internal solutions. A European East-West divide has appeared, in addition to the well-known North-South division about the principles evoked in the Bratislava Declaration. Member States in the South have been complaining for years about the lack of solidarity measures, while many Member States in the Northwest have castigated them about their inability to implement their responsibilities. More recently, Member States in the Central/Eastern part of the EU (more precisely the Visegrad group consisting of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland) are refusing, ostensibly in the name of responsibility, to engage in the type of solidarity requested by no longer only the Member States in the South, but also those in the Northwest.

The objective to heal the wounds and reunify EU Member States around the same principles of solidarity and responsibility appears reasonable and even attractive in this setting. If all Member States (including those in the South) are fully responsible, the others (in particular those in the East) will demonstrate greater solidarity, so that the problem may be solved in a balanced way. This presentation based on an opposition between responsibility and solidarity is, however, simplistic and even incorrect from a legal point of view. If there is indeed in EU law a precise legal provision that can be considered to embody responsibility, applicable in the same manner throughout EU law, the same does not hold true for solidarity (1). Moreover, effective solidarity and fair sharing are a prerequisite to responsibility in EU migration and asylum policies, rather than the other way round  (2).

1. More responsibility than solidarity in EU law in general

When searching in the EU treaties for the word “responsibility”, Article 165(1) TFEU provides an excellent example of the kind of answer that appears: following this provision, “The Union shall contribute to the development of quality education by encouraging cooperation between Member States and, if necessary, by supporting and supplementing their action, while fully respecting theresponsibility of the Member States for the content of teaching and the organisation of education systems and their cultural and linguistic diversity”.Responsibility refers in this sense simply to competence.

Responsibility understood as competence can be envisaged as a power as well as a duty. It is not so surprising that this notion has been linked in the case law of the Court of Justice with the principle of loyalty, now referred to as the principle of sincere co-operation under Article 4(3) TEU. The principle embodies, respectively, a positive obligation (taking measures to ensure fulfilment of obligations), and a negative obligation (abstaining from measures that could jeopardize this fulfilment). It is this first part that is often evoked by Member State governments; with ‘responsibility’ they refer to Member States’ duty to fulfil their obligations and honour their commitments under EU law.

Loyalty has been made explicit under Article 4(3) of the TEU. The principles of loyalty and solidarity are sometimes used interchangeably in legal scholarship, with loyalty considered a facet of solidarity. Under this understanding, the responsibility of Member States to implement their obligations under EU law is a sign of solidarity to each other. This is, however, a narrow understanding of solidarity, which is a notion different from responsibility.

When searching in EU treaties for the word ‘solidarity’, one finds, in particular since the Lisbon Treaty, more results than a similar search for ‘responsibility’. In some instances, solidarity fulfils an aspirational role, providing political orientation, rather than forming the basis of legally binding duties.  For example, following article 3(5) TEU, “In its relations with the wider world, the Union shall (…) contribute to peace, security, the sustainable development of the Earth, solidarity and mutual respect among peoples…”

However, in other areas solidarity forms the basis of concrete actions and legally binding duties as in article 222(1) TFEU, following which “The Union and its Member States shall act jointly in a spirit of solidarity if a Member State is the object of a terrorist attack or the victim of a natural or man-made disaster. The Union shall mobilise all the instruments at its disposal, including the military resources made available by the Member States, to:

(a)       – prevent the terrorist threat in the territory of the Member States;

– protect democratic institutions and the civilian population from any terrorist attack;

– assist a Member State in its territory, at the request of its political authorities, in the event of a terrorist attack;

(b)       assist a Member State in its territory, at the request of its political authorities, in the event of a natural or man-made disaster”.

These latter provision shows that solidarity is not linked with the fulfilment of responsibilities but rather with providing assistance to other Member States in order to allow them to implement their obligations.

Interestingly, solidarity understood in this sense does not have the same status as responsibility understood as loyalty. There is indeed no legal provision of solidarity applicable throughout different policies that would create a general duty to support, but rather different and more or less strong expressions of solidarity. As a consequence, one has to examine each particular policy and the provisions in the EU treaties pertaining to it in order to ascertain whether there are concrete solidarity duties and what the extent of these may be. This leads us to the meaning of solidarity in policies on border checks, asylum and immigration as governed by Articles 77 to 80 TFEU.

2. More solidarity than responsibility in EU migration and asylum policies

When searching for the word ‘responsibility’ or ‘responsible’ in those provisions, there are four hits. Firstly, Article 72 states that the EU competences regarding border checks, asylum and immigration do not affect the “responsibilitiesincumbent upon Member States with regard to the maintenance of law and order and the safeguard of internal security” and, secondly, in Article 73, following which “it shall be open to Member States to organise between themselves and under their responsibility forms of cooperation and coordination as they deem appropriate between the competent departments of their administrationsresponsible for safeguarding national security”. Responsibility in those provisions refers to the notion of competence, i.e. that the Member States remain competent for the maintenance of law and order and internal security, and even exclusively competent for national security.

Another ‘hit’ is found in Article 78(2), requesting the European Union to adopt measures for a common European asylum system comprising, under point (e), “criteria and mechanisms for determining which Member State is responsible for considering an application for asylum or subsidiary protection”. This is the legal basis of the famous “Dublin System”, based on Regulation 604/2013, determining the responsible Member State for examining an application lodged in the EU. As the flaws of this system have already been analysed in numerous publications,including in this blog, it is not necessary to explain them once more.

Let us just remind ourselves that the origin of this regulation goes back to aConvention signed in Dublin on 15 June 1990 (this explains why specialists of EU asylum continue to speak about ‘Dublin’ in relation to this system). The aim of this system is to indicate which Member State is competent when an asylum application is introduced in the EU on the basis of a certain number of criteria. In practice, the responsible Member State will more often than not be the one of the legal or illegal first entry of the third-country national to the EU.

Responsibility in this regulation refers to the idea of competence regarding the examination of asylum applications, so that all Member States have to deal with the asylum applications for which they are responsible. The problem is that the Dublin system was not devised on the basis of solidarity. On the contrary, apart from exceptions based on the right to family unity, or the rights of the child, it is premised on the idea that each Member State should deal with the applications of asylum seekers whose presence is attributable to actions of that Member State. This could be either because it let them enter the EU voluntarily by issuing a visa or residence permit, or involuntarily by not controlling its external borders effectively. It is not a coincidence that the Dublin system was conceived by the North-Western Member States who drafted the Schengen Convention (France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) which is at the origin of the Dublin Convention. Solidarity was not an issue at that time in such a small and coherent space. Moreover, Dublin was devised in a purely intergovernmental framework, a decade before the beginning of the implementation of the supranational method with regard to asylum policy, as introduced by the Treaty of Amsterdam, without any actor such as the European Commission looking out for the general interest rather than the national interest of each State. It is an excellent example of the kind of measure that Northern governments managed to impose on other Member States of the European Union, who can try to amend it subsequently, although only with the support of those governments, which explains why this has not been possible regarding the core of the system with the regulations Dublin II in 2003 and Dublin III in 2013.

This is crucial as this policy is, like the area of external borders, characterised by asymmetric burdens between the Member States due to the fate of geography. Following this logic, Greece should have examined all the asylum applications that could have been introduced by the hundreds of thousands of third-country nationals who entered the EU through its borders during the year 2015. It should also have intercepted the persons trying to enter the EU through the Greek borders without the requested documents (a passport with very often at least a short-term visa), as well as taken their fingerprints in order to store them inEurodac, a database helping to determine in practice the responsible Member State. In this particular case, it would mean that Greek authorities should have assumed responsibility of one million third-country nationals just because they entered the EU through the Greek territory.

Does it mean that the Southern Member States are legally wrong when they ask for solidarity from the other Member States, and that they should instead, or at least firstly, fulfil their responsibilities deriving from EU law? The answer is actually much more complicated due to Article 80 TFEU, which reads as follows:The policies of the Union set out in this Chapter and their implementation shall be governed by the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility, including its financial implications, between the Member States. Whenever necessary, the Union acts adopted pursuant to this Chapter shall contain appropriate measures to give effect to this principle”.

This provision is one of those detailing the idea of solidarity in the policies for border checks, asylum and immigration. A quick reading may give the impression that this provision is precisely about two principles that have to be balanced, much like in the Bratislava Declaration. Under this reading, Member States should first fulfil their responsibilities by applying the Dublin Regulation and assuming responsibility for the asylum seekers arriving on their territory before they can expect solidarity. In the event of a failure to take up their responsibilities, they should not expect solidarity, or rather they should be found ‘undeserving’ of it.

However, this provision is about one and not two principles and, more importantly, about the principle of “solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility”.It is interesting to note that the words “fair sharing of” have simply been omitted from the Bratislava Declaration, while they completely change the meaning and content of what is at stake. Instead of an opposition between responsibility and solidarity that should be balanced against each other, the idea of fair sharing of responsibility actually reinforces that of solidarity. The policies of the Union on border checks, asylum and immigration are governed by the principle of solidarity, and responsibilities between the Member States in these areas must be shared in a fair way. If one will agree that fairness leaves some margin of discretion to the European Union, this notion refers to the ideas of equity and justice and thus provides an indication about how the EU policy on borders, immigration and asylum must be conceived and implemented.

It therefore appears that the legal obligation of the EU is not to balance the two principles of solidarity and responsibility, but rather to realise solidarity through a fair sharing of responsibilities. This means also that the concerned Member States should not be expected to implement Dublin as pre-condition for solidarity, but should instead benefit from a system aiming at a fair sharing of responsibility between all EU Member States. Some will say that Dublin is as such not contrary to EU law and that the system could be accompanied by “appropriate measures to give effect to the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility”, following the wording of Article 80 TFEU. The problem is that Dublin is the source of the asymmetric burdens between Member States, so that it seems difficult to amend or revise it without reversing the basic principle on which it is based.

Conclusion: responsibility or irresponsibility?

Nothing about this constitutional requirement is mentioned in the Bratislava Declaration. On the contrary, the issue of the relocation of asylum seekers, as a concrete solidarity measure at the core of the debate since 2015, has simply disappeared from the agenda, despite the call of the first summit of the Mediterranean countries of the EU organized in Athens on 9 September. This is the case despite the fact that the relocation measures were based on mandatory EU rules, which most Member States do not apply, while some of them openly challenge them, for instance Hungary through the organisation of a referendumcalling the population to vote against them.

What remains is a kind of “flexible solidarity”, following the words of the joint statement of the Heads of Governments of the V4 Countries (the Visegrad group) defined as a concept that “should enable Member State to decide on specific forms of contribution talking into account their experience and potential”, knowing that “any distribution mechanism should be voluntary”. Some observers have already tried to imagine what this could entail. This will become clearer when the Council of Ministers takes a position on the Commission proposal reforming the Dublin system (Dublin IV), which contains a relocation mechanism that appears ambitious but that would in fact be dysfunctional, as underlined by Francesco Maiani in his report for the European Parliament. The European legislator should keep in mind that, despite the discretion left by this provision, Article 80 TFEU requires a strong solidarity mechanism aiming at “fair sharing of responsibility” between the Member States.

The retreat of the EU regarding the issue of solidarity had actually been announced by the President of the Commission himself in his State of the Union speech, where he stated that “Solidarity must be given voluntarily. It must come from the heart. It cannot be forced”. This clearly contradicts the mandatory character of the relocation decision, which was imposed on 22 September 2015 by a qualified majority in the Council against the opposition of Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and the Czech Republic.

The Bratislava Declaration announces a double evolution. First, a so-called principle of responsibility is prioritised over the principle of solidarity and fair sharing, the latter reduced to a “commitment by a number of Member States to offer immediate assistance to strengthen the protection of Bulgaria’s border with Turkey and continue support to other frontline States”. Secondly, “the objective to ensure full control of external borders” is prioritised over the asylum policy, which is not even mentioned in the text.

The so-called “responsibility to ensure full border controls” is nothing else than a rhetoric contrary to the Treaties, ignoring that the Schengen Borders Code is without prejudice to the rights of asylum seekers (see in particular Articles 3 and 4 of Regulation 2016/399 codifying the Schengen Borders Code). Trying to convince public opinion that asylum seekers can simply be rejected at the border without any further examination of their claim is not only illegal but also populistic. This has proven to be impossible, even in the case of a safe third-country, for example Turkey on the basis of the EU/Turkey agreement of 18 March 2016 (see in this blog Henri Labayle’sThe EU-Turkey Agreement on migration and asylum: False pretences or a fool’s bargain?).

The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk wrote in his letter of invitation to the Bratislava Summit that “Europeans all too often heard politically correct statements that Europe cannot become a fortress and that it must remain open”. This is indeed not the case of the Bratislava Declaration where the Heads of State and government want to improve the communication with citizens through the “use of clear and honest language (…) with strong courage to challenge simplistic solutions of extreme or populist political forces”. The problem is that they do exactly this by pretending to build a Fortress Europe, that is de jure impossible. They probably want to prove that this is possible de facto. This is nothing less than European irresponsibility instead of solidarity.

Solidarity beyond the state: towards a model of solidarity centred on the refugee

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON OPEN DEMOCRACY  (29 September, 2016)

 by VALSAMIS MITSILEGAS  (*)

The increase in the flows of asylum seekers towards the European Union in recent years has re-awakened the discussion over the meaning, extent and limits of the principle of solidarity in European asylum law.

In view of this politically sensitive and ongoing discussion, this contribution aims to assess the legal meaning of solidarity in the Common European Asylum System. I will attempt to demonstrate that the evolution and content of the principle of solidarity in both EU primary and secondary law is predominantly state-centred, with claims of solidarity being advanced primarily with states as reference points and as beneficiaries.

I will aim to demonstrate the limits of this state-centred approach to solidarity both in terms of ensuring effective protection of the rights of asylum seekers and refugees and in terms of achieving an efficient and well-functioning European asylum system. I will advocate in this contribution a paradigm change: moving from a concept of state-centred solidarity to a concept of solidarity centred on the individual.

I will demonstrate how the application of the principle of mutual recognition in the field of positive asylum decisions can play a key part in achieving this paradigm change. I will argue in particular that positive mutual recognition- if accompanied by full equality and access to the labour market for refugees across the European Union- is key towards addressing the lack of effectiveness in the current system.

I will end this contribution by looking boldly in the future, and exploring how refugee-centred solidarity can be achieved by moving from a system of inter-state cooperation based on national asylum determination to a common, EU asylum procedure and status.

State-centred solidarity in European asylum law – a constitutional perspective

An examination of European constitutional law reveals a concept of asylum solidarity which is state-centred, securitised and exclusionary. (Mitsilegas 2014). The emphasis on state-centred state is confirmed by the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty on solidarity in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice.

According to Article 67(2) TFEU, the Union shall ensure the absence of internal border controls for persons and shall frame a common policy on asylum, immigration and external border control, based on solidarity between Member States, which is fair towards third-country nationals. Article 80 TFEU further states that the policies of the Union on borders, asylum and immigration will be governed by the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility, including its financial implications, between the Member States.

Solidarity is also securitised: as with other areas of European Union law, solidarity in European asylum law reflects a crisis mentality and has led to the concept being used with the aim of alleviating perceived urgent pressures on Member States. This view of solidarity as an emergency management tool is found elsewhere in the Treaty, in the solidarity clause established in Article 222 TFEU according to which the Union and its Member States shall act jointly in a spirit of solidarity if a Member State is the object of a terrorist attack or the victim of a natural man-made disaster.

The concept of solidarity here echoes the political construction of solidarity in European asylum law, in responding to perceived urgent threats. This view is confirmed by the growing trend towards the securitsation of migration and asylum in EU law and policy Placed within a state-centric and securitised framework, solidarity is also exclusionary.

The way in which the concept of solidarity has been presented in EU constitutional law leaves little, if any space for the application of the principle of solidarity beyond EU citizens or those ‘within’ the EU and its extension to third-country nationals or those on the outside.

One of the few provisions of the Treaty which may be seen as leaving the door open towards a more human-centred concept of solidarity, Article 2 TEU on the values of the European Union, states that these values are common to the Member States in a society in which…solidarity… [must]prevail. The inclusion of asylum seekers and refugees in this concept of solidarity is unclear. Although asylum law is centred on assessing the protection needs of third-country nationals, and in this capacity they must constitute the primary ‘recipients’ of solidarity in European asylum law, the application of the principle of solidarity in this field appears thus to follow the exclusionary paradigm of solidarity in other fields of EU law where issues of distributive justice arise prominently.

Dublin as the embodiment of state-centred solidarity, and the failure of negative mutual recognition

Continue reading