Considerations on COM(2016)466 - Standards for the qualification of third-country nationals as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees and for the protection granted - EU monitor

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Considerations on COM(2016)466 - Standards for the qualification of third-country nationals as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees and for the protection granted

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(1) A number of substantive changes are to be made to Council Directive 2011/95/EU of 13 December 2011 on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted 31 (recast). To ensure harmonisation and more convergence in asylum decisions and as regards the content of international protection in order to reduce incentives to move within the European Union and ensure an equality of treatment of beneficiaries of international protection that Directive should be repealed and replaced by a Regulation.

(2) A common policy on asylum, including a Common European Asylum System (CEAS) which is based on the full and inclusive application of the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 28 July 1951, as amended by the New York Protocol of 31 January 1967 (Geneva Convention), is a constituent part of the European Union’s objective of establishing progressively an area of freedom, security and justice open to those who, forced by circumstances, legitimately seek protection in the Union. Such a policy should be governed by the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility, including its financial implications, between the Member States.

(3) The CEAS is based on common standards for asylum procedures, recognition and protection offered at Union level, reception conditions and a system for determining the Member State responsible for asylum seekers. Notwithstanding progress achieved so far in the progressive development of the CEAS, there are still significant disparities between the Member States in the types of procedures used, the recognition rates, the type of protection granted, the level of material reception conditions and benefits given to applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection. These divergences are important drivers of secondary movements and undermine the objective of ensuring that all applicants are equally treated wherever they apply in the Union.

(4) In its Communication of 6 April 2016, 32 the Commission set out its options for improving the CEAS, namely to establish a sustainable and fair system for determining the Member State responsible for asylum seekers, to reinforce the Eurodac system, to achieve greater convergence in the EU asylum system, to prevent secondary movements within the European Union and a new mandate for the European Union Agency for Asylum agency. That Communication is in line with calls by the European Council on 18-19 February 2016 33 to make progress towards reforming the EU's existing framework so as to ensure a humane and efficient asylum policy. It also proposes a way forward in line with the holistic approach to migration set out by the European Parliament in its own initiative report of 12 April 2016.

(5) For a well-functioning CEAS, including of the Dublin system, substantial progress should be made regarding the convergence of national asylum systems with special regard to differing recognition rates and type of protection status in the Member States. In addition, rules on status review should be strengthened to ensure that protection is only granted to those who need it and for so long as it continues to be needed. Moreover, divergent practices regarding the duration of the residence permits should be avoided, and the rights granted to beneficiaries of international protection should be further clarified and harmonised.

(6) A Regulation is therefore necessary to ensure a more consistent level of harmonisation throughout the Union and to provide a higher degree of legal certainty and transparency.

(7) The main objective of this Regulation is, on the one hand, to ensure that Member States apply common criteria for the identification of persons genuinely in need of international protection and, on the other hand, to ensure that a common set of rights is available for those persons in all Member States.

(8) The further approximation of rules on the recognition and content of refugee and subsidiary protection status should moreover help to limit the secondary movement of applicants for international protection and beneficiaries of international protection between Member States, where such movement may have been caused by any differences in the national legal measures taken to transpose the Qualification Directive replaced by this Regulation.

(9) This Regulation does not apply to other national humanitarian statuses granted by Member States under their national law to those who do not qualify for the refugee status or the subsidiary protection status. These statuses, if issued, are to be issued in a way not to entail a risk of confusion with international protection.

(10) Successful resettlement candidates should be granted international protection. Accordingly, the provisions of this Regulation on the content of international protection should apply, including the rules to discourage secondary movement.

(11) This Regulation respects the fundamental rights and observes the principles recognised in particular by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (the Charter). In particular this Regulation seeks to ensure full respect for human dignity and the right to asylum of applicants for asylum and their accompanying family members and to promote the application of the Charter's Articles relating to human dignity, respect for private and family life, freedom of expression and information, right to education, freedom to choose an occupation and right to engage in work, freedom to conduct a business, right to asylum, non-discrimination, rights of the child, social security and social assistance, health care, and should therefore be implemented accordingly.

(12) With respect to the treatment of persons falling within the scope of this Regulation, Member States are bound by obligations under instruments of international law to which they are party, including in particular those that prohibit discrimination.

(13) The resources of the Asylum, Migration and Refugee Fund should be used to provide adequate support to Member States’ efforts in implementing the standards set by the Regulation, in particular to those Member States which are faced with specific and disproportionate pressure on their asylum systems, due in particular to their geographical or demographic situation.

(14) The European Union Agency for Asylum should provide adequate support in the application of this Regulation, in particular by providing experts to assist the Member State authorities to receive, register, and examine applications for international protection, providing updated information regarding third countries, including Country of Origin Information, and other relevant guidelines and tools. When applying this Regulation, Member States' authorities should take into account operational standards, indicative guidelines, and best practices developed by the European Union Agency for Asylum [the Agency]. When assessing applications for international protection, Member States' authorities should take particular account of the information, reports, common analysis and guidance on the situation in countries of origin developed at Union level by the Agency and the European networks on country of origin information in accordance with Articles 8 and 10 of Regulation 34  

(15) When applying this Regulation the ‘best interests of the child’ should be a primary consideration, in line with the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In assessing the best interests of the child, Member States' authorities should in particular take due account of the principle of family unity, the minor’s well-being and social development, safety and security considerations and the views of the minor in accordance with his or her age and maturity.

(16) The notion of family members should take into account the different particular circumstances of dependency and the special attention to be paid to the best interests of the child. It should also reflect the reality of current migratory trends, according to which applicants often arrive to the territory of the Member States after a prolonged period of time in transit. The notion should therefore include families formed outside the country of origin, but before their arrival on the territory of the Member State.

(17) This Regulation is without prejudice to the Protocol on asylum for nationals of Member States of the European Union as annexed to the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the TFEU.

(18) The recognition of refugee status is a declaratory act.

(19) Consultations with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees may provide valuable guidance for Member States' authorities when determining refugee status according to Article 1 of the Geneva Convention.

(20) Standards for the definition and content of refugee status should be laid down to guide the competent national bodies of Member States in the application of the Geneva Convention.

(21) It is necessary to introduce common criteria for recognising applicants for asylum as refugees within the meaning of Article 1 of the Geneva Convention.

(22) In particular, it is necessary to introduce common concepts of protection needs arising sur place, sources of harm and protection, internal protection and persecution, including the reasons for persecution.

(23) Protection can be provided, where they are willing and able to offer protection, either by the State or by parties or organisations, including international organisations, meeting the conditions set out in this Directive, which control a region or a larger area within the territory of the State. Such protection should be effective and of a non-temporary nature.

(24) Internal protection against persecution or serious harm should be effectively available to the applicant in a part of the country of origin where he or she can safely and legally travel to, gain admittance to and can reasonably be expected to settle. The assessment of whether such internal protection exists should be an inherent part of the assessment the application for international protection and should be carried out once it has been established by the determining authority that the qualification criteria would otherwise apply. The burden of demonstrating the availability of internal protection should fall on the determining authority.

(25) Where the State or agents of the State are the actors of persecution or serious harm, there should be a presumption that effective protection is not available to the applicant. When the applicant is an unaccompanied minor, the availability of appropriate care and custodial arrangements, which are in the best interests of the unaccompanied minor, should form part of the assessment as to whether that protection is effectively available.

(26) It is necessary, when assessing applications from minors for international protection, that the determining authorities should have regard to child-specific forms of persecution.

(27) One of the conditions for qualification for refugee status within the meaning of Article 1(A) of the Geneva Convention is the existence of a causal link between the reasons for persecution, namely race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group, and the acts of persecution or the absence of protection against such acts.

(28) It is equally necessary to introduce a common concept of the persecution ground ‘membership of a particular social group’. For the purposes of defining a particular social group, issues arising from an applicant’s gender, including gender identity and sexual orientation, which may be related to certain legal traditions and customs, resulting in for example genital mutilation, forced sterilisation or forced abortion, should be given due consideration in so far as they are related to the applicant’s well-founded fear of persecution.

(29) In accordance with relevant case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, when assessing applications for international protection, the competent authorities of the Member States should use methods for the assessment of the applicant's credibility in a manner that respects the individual's rights as guaranteed by the Charter, in particular the right to human dignity and the respect for private and family life. Specifically as regards homosexuality, the individual assessment of the applicant's credibility should not be based on stereotyped notions concerning homosexuals and the applicant should not be submitted to detailed questioning or tests as to his or her sexual practices.

(30) Acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations are set out in the Preamble and Articles 1 and 2 of the Charter of the United Nations and are, amongst others, embodied in the United Nations resolutions relating to measures combating terrorism, which declare that ‘acts, methods and practices of terrorism are contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations’ and that ‘knowingly financing, planning and inciting terrorist acts are also contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations’.

(31) Committing a political crime is not in principle a ground justifying exclusion from refugee status. However, in accordance with relevant case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, particularly cruel actions, where the act in question is disproportionate to the alleged political objective, and terrorist acts which are characterised by their violence towards civilian populations, even if committed with a purportedly political objective, should be regarded as non-political crimes and therefore can give rise to exclusion from refugee status.

(32) Standards for the definition and content of subsidiary protection status should also be laid down. Subsidiary protection should be complementary and additional to the refugee protection enshrined in the Geneva Convention.

(33) It is necessary to introduce common criteria on the basis of which applicants for international protection are to be recognised as eligible for subsidiary protection. Those criteria should be drawn from international obligations under human rights instruments and practices existing in Member States.

(34) For the purpose of assessing serious harm which may qualify applicants as eligible for subsidiary protection, the notion of indiscriminate violence, in accordance with relevant case law of the European Court of Justice, should include violence that may extend to people irrespective of their personal circumstance.

(35) In accordance with relevant case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union 35 , for the purpose of assessing serious harm, situations in which a third country’s armed forces confront one or more armed groups, or in which two or more armed groups confront each other, should be considered an internal armed conflict. It is not necessary for that conflict to be categorised as an ‘armed conflict not of an international character’ under international humanitarian law; nor is it necessary to carry out, in addition to an appraisal of the level of violence present in the territory concerned, a separate assessment of the intensity of the armed confrontations, the level of organisation of the armed forces involved or the duration of the conflict.

(36) As regards the required proof in relation to the existence of a serious and individual threat to the life or person of an applicant, in accordance with relevant case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union 36 , determining authorities should not require the applicant to adduce evidence that he is specifically targeted by reason of factors particular to his personal circumstances. However, the level of indiscriminate violence required to substantiate the application is lower if the applicant is able to show that he is specifically affected by reason of factors particular to his personal circumstance. Moreover, the existence of a serious and individual threat should exceptionally be established by the determining authorities solely on account of the presence of the applicant on the territory or relevant part of the territory of the country of origin provided the degree of indiscriminate violence characterising the armed conflict taking place reaches such a high level that there are substantial grounds for believing that a civilian, returned to the country or origin or to the relevant part of country of origin, would, solely on account of his presence on the territory of that country or region, face a real risk of being subject to the serious threat.

(37) The residence permit and the travel documents issued to beneficiaries of international protection for the first time or renewed following the entry into force of this Regulation should comply with the rules laid down by Regulation (EC) No 1030/2002 and Council Regulation (EC) No 2252/2004 respectively.

(38) Family members, due to their close relationship to the refugee, will normally be vulnerable to acts of persecution in such a manner that could be the basis for international protection. Provided they do not qualify for international protection, for the purpose of maintaining family unity, they shall be entitled to claim a residence permit and the same rights accorded to beneficiaries of international protection. Without prejudice to the provisions related to maintaining family unity in this Regulation, where the situation falls within the scope of Directive 2003/86/EC on the right to family reunification and the conditions for reunification set out thereof are fulfilled, family members of the beneficiary of international protection who do not individually qualify for such protection should be granted residence permits and rights in accordance with that Directive. This Regulation shall be applied without prejudice to Directive 2004/38/EC.

(39) With a view to ascertaining whether beneficiaries of international protection are still in need of that protection, determining authorities should review the granted status when the residence permit has to be renewed, for the first time in the case of refugees, and for the first and second time in the case of beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, as well as when a significant relevant change in the beneficiaries' country of origin occurs as indicated by common analysis and guidance on the situation in the country of origin provided at Union level by the Agency and the European networks on country of origin information in accordance with Articles 8 and 10 of Regulation 37 .

(40) When assessing a change of circumstances in the third country concerned, the competent authorities of the Member States shall verify, having regard to the refugee’s individual situation, that the actor or actors of protection in that country have taken reasonable steps to prevent the persecution, that they therefore operate, inter alia, an effective legal system for the detection, prosecution and punishment of acts constituting persecution and that the national concerned will have access to such protection if the refugee status ceases to exist.

(41) When the refugee status or the subsidiary protection status ceases to exist, the application of the decision by which the determining authority of a Member State revokes, ends or does not renew the status should be deferred for a reasonable period of time after adoption, in order to give the third-country national or stateless person concerned the possibility to apply for residence on the basis of other grounds than those having justified the granting of international protection, such as family reasons, or reasons related to employment or to education, in accordance with relevant Union and national law.

(42) Beneficiaries of international protection should reside in the Member State which granted them protection. Those beneficiaries who are in possession of a valid travel document and a residence permit issued by a Member State applying the Schengen acquis in full, should be allowed to enter into and move freely within the territory of the Member States applying the Schengen acquis in full, for a period up to 90 days in any 180-day period in accordance with Schengen Borders Code 38 and with Article 21 of the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement 39 . Beneficiaries of international protection can equally apply to reside in a Member State other than the Member State which granted protection, in accordance with relevant EU rules, notably on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of highly skilled employment 40 and national rules; however, this does not imply any transfer of the international protection and related rights.

(43) In order to prevent secondary movements within the European Union, beneficiaries of international protection, if found in a Member State other than the Member State having granted them protection without fulfilling the conditions of stay or reside, should be taken back by the Member State responsible in accordance with the procedure laid down by Regulation 41  

(44) In order to discourage secondary movements within the European Union, the Long Term Residence Directive 2003/109/EC should be amended to provide that the 5-year period after which beneficiaries of international protection are eligible for the Long Term Resident status should be restarted each time the person is found in a Member State, other than the one that granted international protection, without a right to stay or to reside there in accordance with relevant Union or national law.

(45) The notion of national security and public order also covers cases in which a third-country national belongs to an association which supports international terrorism or supports such an association.

(46) When deciding on entitlements to the benefits included in this Regulation, the competent authorities should take due account of the best interests of the child, as well as of the particular circumstances of the dependency on the beneficiary of international protection of close relatives who are already present in the Member State and who are not family members of that beneficiary. In exceptional circumstances, where the close relative of the beneficiary of international protection is a married minor but not accompanied by his or her spouse, the best interests of the minor may be seen to lie with his or her original family.

(47) Within the limits set out by international obligations, the granting of benefits with regard to access to employment and social security requires the prior issuing of a residence permit.

(48) Competent authorities may restrict the access to employed or self-employed activities as regard posts which involve the exercise of public authority, and responsibility for safeguarding the general interest of the State or other public authorities. In the context of exercising their right equal treatment as regards membership of an organisation representing workers or engaging in a specific occupation, beneficiaries of international protection may likewise be excluded from taking part in the management of bodies governed by public law and from holding an office governed by public law

(49) In order to enhance the effective exercise of the rights and benefits laid down in this Regulation by beneficiaries of international protection, it is necessary to take into account their specific needs and the particular integration challenges with which they are confronted, and facilitate their access to integration related rights in particular as regards employment-related educational opportunities and vocational training and access to recognition procedures for foreign diplomas, certificates and other evidence of formal qualifications in particular due to the lack of documentary evidence and their inability to meet the costs related to the recognition procedures.

(50) Equal treatment should be provided for beneficiaries of international protection with nationals of the Member State granting protection as regards social security.

(51) In addition, especially to avoid social hardship, it is appropriate to provide beneficiaries of international protection with social assistance without discrimination. However, as regards beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, Member States should be given some flexibility, to limit such rights to core benefits, which is to be understood as covering at least minimum income support, assistance in the case of illness, or pregnancy, and parental assistance, in so far as those benefits are granted to nationals under national law. In order to facilitate their integration, Member States should be given the possibility to make the access to certain type of social assistances specified in national law, for both refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, conditional on the effective participation of the beneficiary of international protection in integration measures. 

(52) Access to healthcare, including both physical and mental healthcare, should be ensured to beneficiaries of international protection.

(53) In order to facilitate the integration of beneficiaries of international protection into society, beneficiaries of international protection shall have access to integration measures, modalities to be set by the Member States. Member States may make the participation in such integration measures, such as language courses, civic integration courses, vocational training and other employment-related courses compulsory.

(54) The effective monitoring of the application of this Regulation requires that it be evaluated at regular intervals.

(55) In order to ensure uniform conditions for the implementation of the provisions of this Regulation in respect of the form and content of the information to be provided, implementing powers should be conferred on the Commission. Those powers should be exercised in accordance with Regulation (EU) No 182/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 February 2011 laying down the rules and general principles concerning mechanisms for control by the Member States of the Commission's exercise of implementing powers 42 .

(56) Since the objectives of this Regulation, namely to establish standards for the granting of international protection to third-country nationals and stateless persons by Member States, for a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted, cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of the scale and effects of this Regulation, be better achieved at Union level, the Union may adopt measures, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity as set out in Article 5 of the TEU. In accordance with the principle of proportionality, as set out in that Article, this Regulation does not go beyond what is necessary in order to achieve those objectives

(57) [In accordance with Article 3 of Protocol No 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, those Member States have notified their wish to take part in the adoption and application of this Regulation]

OR

[In accordance with Articles 1 and 2 of Protocol No 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and without prejudice to Article 4 of that Protocol, those Member States are not taking part in the adoption of this Regulation and are not bound by it or subject to its application.]

OR

[(XX) In accordance with Articles 1 and 2 of Protocol No 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and without prejudice to Article 4 of that Protocol, the United Kingdom is not taking part in the adoption of this Regulation and is not bound by it or subject to its application.

(XX) In accordance with Article 3 of Protocol No 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Ireland has notified (, by letter of ...,) its wish to take part in the adoption and application of this Regulation.]

OR

[(XX) In accordance with Article 3 of Protocol No 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the United Kingdom has notified (, by letter of ...,) its wish to take part in the adoption and application of this Regulation.

(XX) In accordance with Articles 1 and 2 of Protocol No 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and without prejudice to Article 4 of that Protocol, Ireland is not taking part in the adoption of this Regulation and is not bound by it or subject to its application.]

(58) In accordance with Articles 1 and 2 of the Protocol (No 22) on the position of Denmark, annexed to the TEU and to the TFEU, Denmark is not taking part in the adoption of this Regulation and is not bound by it or subject to its application.