Towards a Rights-Based Reform of the Common European Asylum System

By Stephanie Pope, Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer

In the wake of the European Parliament elections, Refugee Rights Europe is launching its next phase of EU-level policy and advocacy work. In 2019 and 2020, we will be working with policy-makers and advocacy partners in Brussels to achieve positive reform. Informed by data gathered from over 6,000 displaced people and civil society actors in Europe since 2016, and with up-to-date expertise on key EU locations affected by forced migration, RRE will be focusing on three core themes within the reform of the CEAS:

  • Realising Family Reunification
  • Countering Externalisation & Obstruction of Access to Asylum
  • Ending Deprivation of Liberty & Geographical Restriction

Opportunities in the Wake of the EU elections

Despite a rather bleak picture relating to asylum and migration management across Europe, RRE believes that the European Union and its member states are capable of operating an asylum system that upholds the human rights of every person seeking protection on European territory. It is part of RRE’s core mission to push for such change, firmly anchored in basic human rights that should apply to all human beings.

We are convinced that the current reform of the Common European Asylum System constitutes a strong opportunity to make this a reality, and to put lessons learned from the challenges of recent years into practice, creating a system that works better for everyone: the displaced, host communities, national governments and EU institutions. Such a system safeguards human rights while saving human, material and financial resources that go to waste when asylum is handled in ‘crisis’-mode, or in an inhumane and inconsistent manner.

Realising Family Reunification

It is clear that effective family reunification procedures would mitigate dangerous bottle-neck scenarios currently unfolding throughout Europe, where significant numbers of individuals eligible for family reunification are trapped in inhumane conditions due to lack of access to the procedure and unnecessarily lengthy case processing. This exacerbates human suffering and encourages secondary movements while overcrowding and draining of resources breeds resentment among local populations as well as dwindling cooperation of frontline Member States. Effective family reunification is thus in the interest of displaced people, host communities and governments alike, yet the Dublin IV Proposal restricts, rather than facilitates access to family reunification.

To address this, RRE is advocating for concrete changes to the current and proposed provisions for family reunification under the Dublin regulation. You can find out more here.

Countering Externalisation & Obstruction of Access to Asylum

Amidst the deadlock on the Dublin IV negotiations, externalisation of EU asylum is gaining traction. Lacking any basis in human rights or refugee law, concepts such as ‘Regional Disembarkation Platforms’ and ‘Controlled Centres’ threaten to weaken and offshore EU protection obligations. Moreover, the very similar existing ‘Hotspot’ approach violates human rights and traps refugees and displaced people in inhumane living conditions for prolonged periods, while failing to bring about efficient procedures or equitable responsibility sharing.[1]

RRE is therefore working to influence EU policy-makers to effectively address this issue through an unequivocal respect for human rights, including the right to asylum. In our view, this clearly rules out externalisation as well as the expulsion of individuals to or their containment in countries that do not uphold human rights and international law in practice. You can find out more here.

Ending Deprivation of Liberty & Geographical Restriction

Another area RRE is working on at the EU level is that of detention, deprivation of liberty and geographical restrictions. Detention is increasingly employed on EU territory, including in cases of children,[2] as a migration management tool, a means of deterrence and/or to compensate for inadequately functioning reception and asylum systems. Such practice compounds the suffering of vulnerable and often traumatised individuals while violating human rights obligations and wasting valuable resources that are necessary to sustain large-scale detention schemes.

To promote constructive reform in this area, we are advocating for the lifting of geographical restrictions currently used on EU territory, the removal of a provision in the proposed recast Reception Conditions Directive that would broaden Member States’ powers to detain individuals, and an absolute prohibition of the detention of minors. You can find out more here.

Change Rooted in the Voices of those Affected

RRE considers the coming months a unique opportunity to promote a rights-based reform of the Common European Asylum System. We will therefore be working with policy-makers in Brussels to achieve targeted political and legal reform, anchored in the voices and lived experiences of the 6,000 displaced individuals we have interviewed across Europe.

Read our concrete policy recommendations here.



[1] See Medecins Sans Frontiers, March 2019:; Greek Council for Refugees, April 2019:

[2] For the latest developments, see PICUM, March 2019:

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