All European countries are not the same!
The Dublin Regulation and onward migration in EuropeAuthor(s):
This report describes a Dublin System on the brink of a major crisis. The report examines the significance of the Dublin Regulation for the onward migration of asylum seekers within Europe, based on data collected in Norway, Sweden, and Germany from February to April 2015. Our findings from this period are currently confirmed and strengthened with the increasing numbers of asylum seekers coming to Europe.
The purpose of the Dublin Regulation is to determine the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States. It is crucial how the Dublin Regulation is applied, as this decides where migrants will live in the future. This research project aimed to identify the most important effects of the Dublin Regulation from the points of view of Member States as well as from migrants’ perspectives.
The sharing of responsibility for asylum seekers in Europe is controversial. While the Dublin Regulation is the only current framework for allocating responsibility for individual asylum claims among the European countries, it is not designed to be an instrument for the general sharing of responsibility between Member States. The absence of adequate instruments for such sharing has detrimental results for Member States, the European Union, and migrants alike.
Summary of the publication
In this project, we have examined the significance of the Dublin Regulation for the onward migration of asylum seekers from their first country of arrival in Europe to other countries in the EU/Schengen area. The project was commissioned by the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration, initiated in December 2014 and conducted in 2015. We collected our data in Norway, Sweden, and Germany during the period from February to April 2015. Because of the ongoing, rapid changes and dramatic events in this field, this limited period of data collection has important implications for our findings. Our analyses and recommendations are based on the data collected in this period. We describe a system on the brink of a major crisis – a crisis that has unfolded as we were writing our report, and a crisis that our material clearly anticipates. Our ambition is that our detailed study of the system may form part of the necessary knowledge base for the revision of the Dublin Regulation, which the EU Commission has announced will come in March 2016.
The purpose of the Dublin Regulation is to determine the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person. The practical work in applying the Dublin Regulation has decisive consequences for where migrants will live in the future. This is because refugee status granted by one Member State does not give the right to live or work in any other Member State as a refugee, while individual Member States’ rejections of asylum claims are valid in all Member States.
The Dublin Regulation is an integrated part of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). The aim of the CEAS is to harmonise the internal legislation on common standards for asylum seekers among the EU Member States. The CEAS consists of three directives; the Qualification Directive (on who qualifies for asylum and the content of protection granted), the Reception Conditions Directive and the Asylum Procedures Directive; and of two regulations, namely the Dublin Regulation and the Eurodac Regulation on the use of fingerprints of persons over 14 years who are not European citizens. The Dublin Regulation and the Eurodac Regulation together form the Dublin System.
States have different forms of membership in the EU/Schengen policies on asylum and migration. The CEAS includes all EU Member States. Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein are not included in the CEAS as a whole, but do take part in the Dublin System. These countries are also part of the Schengen cooperation, which also includes EU Member States, except the UK, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Croatia. In this report, we use ‘Member States’ when we refer to the 32 countries taking part in the Dublin System: the 28 EU member states, and Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
This research project aims to identify the most important consequences of the Dublin Regulation from the points of view of Member States as well as from migrants' perspectives. We address the following three research questions:
- What characterises the people who migrate onward within Europe, in terms of migration patterns, citizenship, gender and age?
- How does the Dublin Regulation work in practice, as seen from the points of view of immigration bureaucracies?
- How does the Dublin Regulation work in practice, as seen from the points of view of migrants, and what are the implications of the Dublin Regulation for their decisions to travel onward within Europe?
1. What characterises the people who migrate onward after arrival in Europe, in terms of migration patterns, citizenship, gender, and age?
European migration statistics constitute a relatively new field, and only to a limited extent show the migration patterns and key characteristics of people who are migrating onward within Europe. We have examined existing Dublin related statistics, which are only partly updated up to the end of 2014. The border control agencies Frontex and EASO have recently started collecting statistics on persons travelling onward within Europe, but these numbers are not yet published.
There are two main sources of Dublin statistics on the European level: Eurodac statistics and Eurostat statistics. As the two sets of statistics are based on diverging categories, Eurodac statistics cannot be linked to Eurostat statistics on requests to transfer individual asylum seekers and completed transfers between Member States.
There are several weaknesses in the Eurostat Dublin statistics especially as some data are not included in the statistics. These statistics do not include the categories citizenship, sex and gender. There is also a time lag between the registrations of the stages in the Dublin procedure, which means that it is not possible to follow the movements of individuals, as requests registered one year will often lead to transfers registered the following year.
The majority of those who entered irregularly in one Member State and later lodged an application for asylum in another Member State went to Germany and Sweden.
Moreover, Germany, Switzerland and Norway were the Member States where most persons were found irregularly present after they had applied for asylum in another Member State (Eurodac 2015). Eurostat Dublin statistics from 2008 to 2014 show EU-border countries have the most incoming requests from other Member States. In 2014, Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden sent the most outgoing requests to other Member States. There was also a circulation of requests among countries in North-West Europe.
Norwegian, Swedish, and German national statistics from 2014 show that the ratio of effectuated Dublin transfers are generally low in all three countries. The three countries send requests to each other. They also mutually transfer, and therefore in effect exchange, asylum seekers with similar nationalities – mostly people originating in Eritrea and Syria. The patterns are similar between Norway and Sweden, while Germany in addition sends more requests to neighbouring countries on the continent. Most incoming and outgoing requests and transfers concern asylum seekers from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan.
While neither Eurostat nor German Dublin statistics include information on age and gender, Norwegian and Swedish statistics do provide data on these characteristics. In 2014, men between the ages of 20 and 40 formed the largest category of persons registered as Dublin cases who travelled onward to Norway or Sweden. There was also a significant number of women and of persons below the age of 18, but few above the age of 60.
Reports from the European Parliament (Guild et al. 2014) and EASO (2014a) operate with a distinction between three categories of percentages referring to: 1) outgoing Dublin requests of total asylum applicants; 2) accepted Dublin requests of total asylum applicants; 3) effectuated Dublin transfers of total asylum applicants. When we apply the same distinction to Norway, Sweden and Germany in 2014, we find the following:
1) In Norway, the proportion of outgoing requests out of the total number of first asylum applications was 30 per cent, while the corresponding number for Sweden was 14 per cent and for Germany 20 per cent. 2) While the proportion of accepted outgoing requests of all first asylum applications to Norway was 15 per cent, the corresponding number for Sweden was 11 per cent and for Germany 16 per cent. 3) The proportion of effectuated Dublin transfers out of the total number of first asylum applications to Norway in 2014 was 13 per cent, while the corresponding number for Sweden was 5 per cent and for Germany 3 per cent.
When it comes to the percentages of effectuated Dublin transfers measured in relation to outgoing requests accepted by other Member States, there are also significant differences between the three countries in 2014. In Norway, the proportion of effectuated Dublin transfers of all accepted outgoing requests was 85 per cent. The corresponding number for Sweden was 49 per cent and for Germany 39 per cent.
These numbers can only be interpreted as indicators to see the proportion of Dublin transfers. The number of asylum applications registered one year will for various reasons not necessarily reflect the number of applications processed by the government in the same year. However, as this holds true for all three countries, the significant differences between their Dublin transfer ratios reflect a clear pattern: The likelihood for asylum seekers to have their applications processed in countries of onward migration is higher in Germany and Sweden than in Norway. The differences may indicate a Norwegian priority to use the Dublin Regulation as a means to transfer asylum seekers to other Member States.
2. How does the Dublin Regulation work in practice, as seen from the points of view of immigration bureaucracies?
Studies of the Dublin Regulation
Our review of reports and statistical material exposes a broad consensus among scholars and policy makers about weaknesses in the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) and in the Dublin Regulation. As an effect of the shortcomings of the CEAS, the Dublin Regulation has been attributed with several implicit aims in addition to its explicit aim of identifying the Member State responsible for processing specific claims for asylum. While the Dublin Regulation is the only current framework for allocating responsibility for individual asylum claims among the European countries, it is not designed to be an instrument for the general sharing of responsibility between Member States. The main weaknesses of the Dublin System itself lie in Member States’ diverging application of the Dublin Regulation, the low effective transfer rates, and no measurable decrease in onward migration after nearly two decades since the Dublin Convention first came into force.
Public institutions’ experiences
Regarding the administrative cooperation between the Member States at the operative level, we found that all the public servants we spoke to in the three countries had positive experiences. This well-established cooperation was the strongest positive effect we found of the Dublin Regulation in the three countries.
When it comes to persons not registered in the first Member State of arrival, the Dublin system is only able to handle these cases to the extent that other Member States have the capacity to check asylum seekers’ travel documents. While Norwegian authorities reported that they have this capacity, Swedish and German authorities almost exclusively use the Eurodac fingerprint database and VISA data files to identify Dublin cases.
As the aim is not to start the asylum process before the responsible Member State is identified, immigration bureaucracies in all three countries focused on technical questions related to the persons’ itineraries within Europe. In contrast to Norway and Sweden, however, German authorities gave persons in a Dublin process an extended possibility to express any special reasons for not being transferred to another Member State, through two separate Dublin interviews in addition to the initial registration interview.
All our public servant interviewees emphasised they applied the criteria in the hierarchical order prescribed in the Regulation in order to determine the Member State responsible for an application. In spite of public servants' own understanding of their application of criteria in the prescribed hierarchical order, a low-ranking criterion (application examined in the first Member State in which they arrived when entering the EU/Schengen territory) was the most frequently applied. Most likely, this is due to the relative ease of access to information that makes this criterion applicable, through the Eurodac fingerprint database. The information required to apply the higher ranked criteria has not been made similarly accessible through established instruments of cooperation.
While Norway has a separate tribunal for immigration cases, Dublin decisions in Sweden and Germany are treated within the general court system. Norway gives persons with a Dublin decision access to appeal procedures and provides two hours of lawyer assistance free of charge, by lawyers appointed by the immigration authorities. This is not the case in Sweden or Germany, where asylum seekers must find and pay for any legal assistance themselves. In all three countries, bureaucratic decisions in Dublin cases were very rarely amended by subsequent court decisions, in spite of these significant legal differences.
An obstacle to the functioning of the Dublin Regulation is the absconding of persons with a Dublin decision before the transfer can take place. When deemed necessary, Norwegian, Swedish and German authorities make use of detention before Dublin transfers. Such detention forms part of an internal border control.
We found diverging views between the three countries of whether, and how, differences in the Member States’ asylum procedures and reception conditions should influence the application of the Dublin Regulation. Such considerations are not part of the Dublin Regulation, but of the three Directives that form the CEAS together with the Dublin System. This indicates that the cart has been set before the horse in the Dublin System: rather than setting the Dublin System in motion after its preconditions as outlined in the Directives were in place, one has begun by implementing the Dublin System, with the preconditions as future goals.
Diverging national jurisprudence within the three countries thus leads to different practices. While neither of the three countries transferred persons to Greece, and they had changed their practice in relation to transferring families to Italy following the Tarakhel decision, Norway and Sweden transferred persons to Hungary with no reservations, while Germany (Berlin) had reservations in doing this due to an administrative court decision in Berlin.
The Dublin System is not equally important to the immigration bureaucracies in the three countries. Norwegian government institutions give the criterion concerning first country of entry in the Dublin Regulation high priority in relation to both the use of resources and the transfer of asylum seekers to other Member States. Swedish government institutions had a more ambiguous practice. They used fewer resources and transferred fewer asylum seekers than Norway, measured in relation to the number of asylum seekers. German government institutions transferred very few asylum seekers under the Dublin Regulation. Public institutions in Berlin emphasised to us that the Dublin Regulation was not a priority in their daily work, as the onward migration of other groups than asylum seekers was more important.
In summary, public institutions in the three countries prioritise differently in their application of the Dublin Regulation.
3. How does the Dublin Regulation work in practice as seen from the points of view of migrants, and what are the implications of the Dublin Regulation for their decisions to travel onward within Europe?
Decisions on onward migration
The literature review indicates that decisions to migrate onward within Europe are formed in a complex interplay between many agents and factors. Decisions do not just depend on asylum procedures, outcomes and standards of reception and waiting conditions but even more on future possibilities. For the individual migrant, it makes sense to ask: “If I gain protection in this country – will I have the means to survive here? If not, where might I be better able to build myself a new life?” Such questions are answered not only on the individual, economistic-rational level, but also in terms of wider social realities such as the possibility of reciprocal relationships with other people. Which country offers the best future opportunities will depend on individual, transnational and national factors such as the location of existing social networks, knowledge of and familiarity with different European languages and cultures, and which European country is likely to recognise their competencies and to need their labour.
Migrants’ experiences with the Dublin system
Through the interviews, we found the Dublin Regulation is only a small part of migrants’ own experiences. Its significance lies in the ways in which it interacts with other elements and factors. ‘Dublin’ works as a largely unforeseen barrier to their plans and aspirations. Being defined as a Dublin case adds to the many difficulties they have to overcome and takes its additional tolls on their health and well-being.
Although policies and practices are built on the principle of mutual trust among Member States, this trust, as extended to the countries of first entry in Europe, was clearly not shared by the migrants. Our interviewees were less concerned with comparing the material conditions for asylum seekers in different countries, and more concerned with their own access to basic necessities such as housing, health services, food and work, as well as with human rights violations directed at asylum seekers and migrants in some countries of first entry. Over half of the people interviewed stated they feared desolation, homelessness and/or violence in the first country of entry. None of the migrants interviewed in Norway stated they had had any opportunity to explain these fears fully to case workers, while migrants interviewed in Germany reported that they had this opportunity. While residency may be granted, means of subsistence do not always follow. This is especially a problem for people with refugee status in the Mediterranean countries, where refugees to a limited extent have access to welfare services and labour and housing markets.
When it comes to Dublin procedures, including Member States’ obligation to inform migrants of the Dublin Regulation, the general picture gained from the migrants was that of Dublin outcomes as predominantly random.
Most of our interviewees named the immigration authorities (in Norway, NOAS provides information on commission from the Directorate of Immigration) as their main sources of information about the Dublin Regulation. Although most of the interviewees had received general information, it was difficult for them to apply the information to their own cases. Access to information relevant to a specific case largely depends on agents of law who are specialised in asylum procedures. Understanding the criteria and procedures of the Dublin Regulation as a system was less relevant to the migrants than identifying the specific possibilities and obstacles that this system posed to them.
None of our informants had heard of Eurodac before we spoke to them, but all had an idea about the central role of fingerprints in the European asylum system. The specific role of fingerprints in their own cases was resented. Several migrants described having been forced to give their fingerprints, or having been wrongly informed that the fingerprints would not have any impact on their asylum procedures.
More than half of the migrants we interviewed had made a decision about their final country of destination before leaving their country of origin. These decisions had been based on a combination of reasons. The likelihood of reaching a country offering democracy and human rights, safety, peace, education and work was the top priority. The presence in other countries of family, friends or an ethnic network, and familiarity with the language and culture of the destination country had also been important factors. Changes of plans en route had been caused by unexpectedly closed borders and the perception of persecution or push back (refoulement) of migrants and refugees in the first country of entry
Our material shows that it does make a difference for asylum seekers where they file their claim, in terms of criteria, status and conditions – the content of the three Directives of the CEAS. While the main thing is to be safe, even this most basic need is not equally met in all Member States. Other basic needs, such as the need for subsistence, are also met differently across Europe, as are more long-term but important concerns about access to housing, education, employment, acceptance, and social networks.
As a consequence of the Dublin Regulation and the wider CEAS, many migrants – asylum seekers, recognised refugees and others with related residence permits – are confined to countries where they have little or no access to such essentials.
Our interviews show that the Dublin System appears fundamentally unjust to migrants. While most asylum seekers in Norway, Sweden and Germany must have passed through one or more European countries on their way, very few of these are categorised as Dublin cases, and even fewer are returned to their first country of entry. The added uncertainty and time involved in a Dublin process exacerbates levels of emotional distress. Being identified as a Dublin case and having to wait passively for a response from another country reinforced the migrants’ sense of being denied human agency and dignity, of being harassed, rendered suspect, and pushed about.
In summary, the interviews show the migrants did not feel the Dublin Regulation works as a solution to their problems, nor indeed as the answer to any conceivable logical question.
As shown in our report and as widely reflected in other studies and in current EU activities, the Dublin Regulation is in dire need of revision. Such revision must be part of a larger revision of the Common European Asylum System. Our recommendations are especially directed towards the Norwegian authorities. Norway is a signatory to the Schengen agreement and the Dublin Regulation, and the country adapts to the directives in the CEAS. The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration has specifically requested our recommendations on the following:
- How should Norwegian authorities handle the fact that many third-country nationals are not registered in their first country of arrival in Europe?
- Is it possible to reduce the ratio of persons who claim asylum in more than one European country? If so, how?
1. How should Norwegian authorities handle the fact that many third-country nationals are not registered in their first country of arrival in Europe?
Our recommendations here necessarily depend on how the authorities’ aim is defined.
If the aim is to transfer asylum seekers to the first country of entry in Europe, Norwegian authorities could make an even stronger effort to check travel documents and other sources of information in addition to Eurodac hits and report of Visa data file, and use these as evidence to prove the person has been in another Member State. However, this would demand even more resources than are currently spent on Dublin processing in Norway. It would also entail considerable human costs, and most likely be inefficient in economic terms. We would therefore not recommend this.
If the aim is to increase the number of registrations, Norwegian authorities could provide more support to EU agencies' establishment of so-called Hotspots for the European border countries’ registration of asylum seekers. The establishment of such Hotspots and the implied (if necessary, forced) registration of all third-country nationals who cross the borders into Europe in irregular ways involves yet new logistical challenges for the border countries, as well as complex human rights challenges. We would therefore only recommend this on condition the human rights challenges are adequately met before the establishment of such Hotspots. This would demand thorough and time-consuming preparations.
If the aim is to give persons in need of protection the possibility to lodge their applications, Norway could refrain from requesting Dublin transfers and instead examine all applications lodged in Norway. This complies with the Dublin Regulation as it is. This would also make available for the direct assessments of asylum applications the considerable human and economic resources now spent on Dublin cases and on the transfer of asylum seekers between countries. We recommend this as an immediate action.
2. Is it possible to reduce the ratio of persons who claim asylum in more than one European country? If so, how?
The exact ratio or number of persons seeking asylum in more than one European country is not known; however, the low ratios of Dublin requests indicate that such multiple applications are less common than is often assumed.
Effectively reducing the ratio of persons who claim asylum in more than one European country is only possible under certain circumstances. These circumstances are, in order of importance: equal asylum procedures resulting in equal recognition rates, equal future possibilities, and equal reception conditions for asylum seekers. The first and last of these are already defined as CEAS Directives and as such form a foundation for the Regulation. However, at present, they function as goals rather than as preconditions. As we have shown, this logical fallacy does not lead to the desired results, such as the legal protection of asylum seekers and the reduction of onward migration. The second circumstance, equal future possibilities, goes far beyond the CEAS, as it depends on the economies of Member States and on the characteristics of individual asylum seekers. The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration can do very little to influence any of these circumstances.
Other recommendations – related to Norwegian immigration bureaucracy
With regard to the organisation and distribution of tasks and responsibilities within Norway, on the basis of our study we recommend.
The role of the police in Dublin cases should be reconsidered. This should be considered together with a reconsidering of the efficiency of the present system of legal support. If an asylum seeker is identified as a Dublin case in connection with the initial registration conducted by the police, his or her opportunity to communicate with the Directorate of Immigration is rigorously limited. In Sweden and Germany, our research shows this line of communication is more available to all asylum seekers, thus potentially providing an opportunity to defend the case for claiming asylum in these countries. Although the police today are required to ask for such information, this is done upon arrival in Norway, in a stressful initial situation where large amounts of information are to be exchanged and the asylum seekers have little understanding of the procedures in Norway. Having been identified as Dublin cases, asylum seekers should therefore be provided the opportunity to present their reasons to the Directorate of Immigration in at least one later, separate interview, as in Germany. This would facilitate case workers’ access to information necessary to applying the higher ranked criteria in the Dublin Regulation.
Independent and systematic information about conditions and developments in Member States as relevant to Dublin decisions should be available to the Directorate of Immigration and the Immigration Appeals Board. Such information should be included in Landinfo’s mandate. In order to ensure the transparency and independence of the decisions of these two institutions, the Immigration Appeals Board’s sources of information should, however, not be limited to Landinfobut include reports from a wider range of national and international sources.
In order to ensure immigration appeals including Dublin appeals the same degree of objectivity and transparency as other court appeals, Norway should consider following Sweden’s example and replace the Immigration Appeals Board with a Migration Court placed within the general tribunal system. Norwegian authorities should examine Sweden’s experiences with this change.
Other recommendations to Norwegian authorities
Based on our analyses of how the Dublin Regulation worked in the months immediately preceding the summer of 2015 when the number of asylum seekers coming to Europe rose dramatically, and in light of the current critical situation, we would like to extend the following additional recommendations to Norwegian authorities.
Immediately suspend the Dublin procedure for asylum seekers from Syria, and thus take over the responsibility for processing their claims, also considering this measure for other nationality groups. The current challenges have been created on the European level, and separate national solutions are therefore not likely to succeed. Like Germany, Norway should therefore seek solutions on the European level.
In the longer term, commit to a revision of the Dublin Regulation in which the Regulation is based on mutual recognition of refugee status and related residence and work permits, so that recognition, and not just rejection, is valid on a European level.
Any revision of the Dublin Regulation should also include a mutually binding definition of vulnerability.
The announced revision should build on the main achievement of the Dublin system to date, which consists of well-established and functioning networks and instruments of cooperation among the immigration administrations of Member States.
Continuous research is needed on the consequences of the immediate and long-term developments in EU’s common asylum policy. The Dublin Regulation should not be seen in isolation but rather as an integrated part of a system in crisis. Special attention should be paid to what will happen to the future asylum system and to persons seeking international protection in this system, depending on the degree and nature of an agreement among all Member States on the distribution of asylum seekers in Europe.
We view the following research topics as especially urgent:
- The consequences of any European level agreement on the distribution of asylum seekers, or on the lack thereof.
- The consequences of a revised Dublin Regulation for Member States
- The consequences of a revised Dublin Regulation for migrants, with special attention to children and vulnerable groups
- Changes in border control policies and practices at the inner and outer Schengen borders
- How civil society and governments act, legitimate their actions, and adapt to one another, especially considering the identification of possible synergy effects and areas of tension.
- Research should also focus on refugee related changes internally in the Member States’ educational systems, labour and housing markets and other important societal fields, and examine the possibilities for a harmonisation of integration instruments on a European level.