There is still a long way to go in the establishment of a fair and efficient Common European Asylum System despite more than 12 years of harmonising national asylum policies and the adoption of the asylum package in June, according to research published today by the European Council of Refugees and Exiles on asylum in 14 EU states, including Malta.

Not There Yet: An NGO Perspective on Challenges to a Fair and Effective Common European Asylum System illustrates huge differences as regards the procedural rules and safeguards for asylum seekers, their access to accommodation and employment, and the use of detention.

The NGO said that when people fleeing violence and persecution managed to overcome the barriers that EU governments put in place to prevent them from entering the EU, they still faced additional obstacles to having their claim for protection fairly assessed.

“How can we expect refugees to be able to explain the reasons which forced them to flee their country and navigate through a complex legal procedure when in some cases they are not assisted by a lawyer and a qualified interpreter, when sometimes they have to sleep rough or in makeshift settlements or when months in overcrowded detention centres have left them psychologically broken?” Michael Diedring, ECRE secretary general, said at the launch of the report.

“Given the increasing legal complexity of Europe’s asylum procedures, it is essential that asylum seekers can effectively access free quality legal assistance throughout the asylum procedure to ensure that those who are in need of international protection are recognised as such.

“However, to a greater or lesser extent, access to free legal assistance and representation is increasingly compromised in the 14 EUs covered in the report.”

The research showed that cuts to legal aid were reducing the number of legal representatives available to provide assistance to asylum seekers and refugees, and that, effective access to quality legal assistance was least available where it was most needed, such as in accelerated procedures, at the border or in detention.

Moreover, asylum seekers’ right to lodge an appeal against a negative first instance asylum decision was, in some of the EU states, undermined in practice as lawyers were not allowed reasonable time to properly prepare the appeal.

The report also highlights the varying practices with regard to detention, noting that Malta continued to detain for months the vast majority of asylum seekers arriving in the island in overcrowded military barracks.

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