The refugee crisis has once again escalated, bringing renewed criticism of the so-called Dublin Regulation. The critique is justified – and it is important to establish what it is that does not work and why.
The Dublin Regulation was first established in 1990 and has been reformed twice: in 2003 and again in 2013. The regulation currently in force is Dublin III. In comparison to Dublin II, Dublin III represents an improvement — having taken on aboard some of the criticisms of international organizations, such as UNHCR and ECRE, as well as those of the European Court of Human Rights. But it has still its flaws.
In the media, the Dublin System is often described as that system, which makes it possible to return asylum seekers to the first country of entry, also described as the country in charge of the asylum claim. In fact, the main aim of the Dublin System is to avoid that multiple asylum applications are submitted in different countries. Achieving this, admittedly legitimate, objective implies that a certain screening (including fingerprinting) has to be carried out in that country where an asylum seeker first lodges his/her intention to apply for international protection, which is not necessarily the first country of entry. The responsibility of the country receiving such a claim is then to establish where the asylum claim is best lodged. Thus refugees who can prove they have immediate family members (spouse, children) or relatives (uncles, aunts, grandparents) in another Member State are entitled to travel onwards and lodge their asylum application there. Those who have no such connections must remain in the country where they first lodged their claim and await the decision of their application. If they decide to travel on ‘irregularly’ they run the risk of being sent back if and whenever they are caught or found out. De facto they are from that moment onwards treated as illegal migrants even if entitled to seek and obtain international protection according to the Geneva Convention.
The parts of the Dublin System that work are those concerning family reunification and protection of minors. However, this only applies to a small number of refugees. The rest have two choices: either to lodge an asylum claim in a border country of the European Union – where they are first stopped, since usually they have no visas – or to try to illegally travel to their preferred country of destination. Both options are life threatening.
The logic of intervention of the Dublin System is that of migration control rather than of the protection of refugees. The underlying assumptions are: first, that there are not many refugees; and second, that the majority of those who apply for asylum are, in fact, illegal migrants. These are wrong assumptions, especially at present, considering the wars or conflicts in Middle East, Northern and sub-Saharan Africa.
Furthermore, it is important to remember that population movements, including forced ones, are influenced by the regulatory environment. The absence of safe and legal routes for lodging an asylum application increases the pressure on refugees and may lead to actions of despair. This is why excessive controls are almost always counter-productive besides being morally questionable.
One other problem of the Dublin System, and the reason why it cannot work in crisis situations, is that it was enacted in the absence of an indicative quota system for the relocation and resettlement of refugees across EU Member States – namely of all those without family connections in specific countries. The European Commission made a miserable attempt to establish such a system in May – miserable because it concerned a mere 20,000 persons!
Of the EU Member States, only Germany (with Angela Merkel) has till now had the courage to recognize these flaws and react accordingly. This says something and deserves acknowledgement and respect. It is high time the others follow.