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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 January, 2004, 18:17 GMT
Asylum law 'to hit new EU states'
More and more migrants are detained on their arrival in EU countries
Mr Lubbers wants centralised reception centres
New rules on dealing with asylum-seekers could overwhelm the EU's new member-states, the UN's high commissioner for refugees has warned.

Ruud Lubbers said he wanted to see a more centralised approach which would share the asylum burden.

Ten states are set to join the EU on 1 May including border countries used as access points by asylum-seekers.

Under EU rules introduced last year, asylum claims must be made in the first country in which refugees arrive.

Some EU ministers have raised concerns about how the UN proposals will be funded.

Fragile systems

Mr Lubbers set out a number of proposals at a meeting with EU justice and interior ministers in Dublin on Thursday.

He said the UNHCR wants the EU to set up reception centres to share the burden of processing claims across all its member-states.

What is going to happen if thousands of extra asylum-seekers are sent back to them from the inner EU countries?
Ruud Lubbers
"If we are not careful, we risk overwhelming fragile and under-resourced asylum systems in the new EU member-states," he said before the meeting.

"If that happens then Europe's new harmonised legislation may simply create a new set of problems."

The new member states are Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Mr Lubbers said some of them had only 15 or 20 asylum-assessors whereas 10 years ago they had no asylum systems at all.

"What is going to happen if thousands of extra asylum-seekers are sent back to them from the inner EU countries?" he asked.

Mr Lubbers's proposals included establishing:

  • EU reception centres where the claims of certain categories of asylum-seekers can be processed

  • a collective EU system to return asylum-seekers judged not to be refugees or in need of other forms of international protection

  • an EU Asylum Agency to manage the new registration and relieve the burden on individual states

Ahead of the meeting Germany's Otto Schily said he was concerned about financing the plans.

"You cannot... just take the advantages and then expect the costs to be paid by the rest of the Union," he said.

"We do not want to increase our contribution."

But Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell, whose country holds the rotating EU president, said members states would seek a common approach to asylum seekers.

She warned that failure to do so would give rise to a "a right-wing backlash and racist politics".

Around 75% of the world's refugees and asylum-seekers currently live in developing nations; but applications for asylum in EU countries have dropped substantially.

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27 Oct 03  |  Europe
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02 Sep 03  |  In Depth
Time to reform refugee rules?
06 Aug 01  |  Talking Point

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