Europe’s asylum system is broken and leaders must fix it

  • Member states need to reform asylum system at European Council meeting

  • Current system is tearing families apart and sowing discord amongst EU partners

  • Internal lack of solidarity pushing a dangerous agenda to dump refugees and asylum-seekers on countries outside Europe

There is an urgent need for a new asylum system that is fair, efficient and compassionate said Amnesty International ahead of a mini-Summit of European leaders this Sunday and the European Council meeting next week.

EU heads of state and government are expected to use the events to discuss measures to strengthen further control of the EU external borders and the reform of the Dublin Regulation.

“Instead of concentrating on striking an agreement on Dublin reform, some EU leaders have come up with a last-minute pitch of having docking platforms for refugees and asylum-seekers – a notion as irresponsible as it is dangerous,” said Iverna McGowan, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

“The challenges of our times demand more courageous leadership from the Council. The people of Europe and those seeking refuge deserve no less.”

Recently leaked draft Council Conclusions include measures like stepping up support for the Libyan Coast Guard and other Libyan entities. This approach has led to human rights violations and with people sent back to Libya suffering further abuses including torture, rape and other forms of violence.

“The logic of passing the responsibility for receiving asylum-seekers and refugees to neighbouring countries either inside or outside Europe, is deeply flawed and not sustainable. Member States must find solidarity-based solutions both amongst themselves and with the regions outside Europe,” said Iverna McGowan.

“By referring to the EU’s founding principles of respect for human rights and solidarity between member states, this generation of European leaders must deliver a sustainable solution to one of the most pressing issues of our time.”


Amnesty International has made clear that it is essential that the agreed reform includes a mandatory distribution mechanism, where responsibility for asylum-seekers is shared among all member states. Aside from being fair, this would be efficient: with all member states involved and no bickering over who is in charge, asylum applications would be processed much quicker than they are at present. It would also be predictable and would thus avoid the tensions that now regularly appear between member states, including when ships rescuing refugees and migrants at sea request instructions on where to disembark them.

A reformed system should strengthen rules for the reunification of family members. Asylum-seekers should not be forced to travel irregularly within the EU to reunite with their families. Stringent rules should require member state administrations to proactively investigate family links, and facilitate family reunion through fast procedures.

Bafflingly, the definition of family in the current rules does not extend to siblings. This must be rectified. A new system should also consider wider family links as a relevant connecting factor. In many cases, relatives are as important to family life as the core nucleus, and, in a context of forced displacement, may provide crucial support to often traumatised and vulnerable asylum seekers.