Guidance illustrates how to ensure continuity of procedures while protecting people's health and fundamental rights
European Commission publishes new guidance on implementing EU rules on asylum in the context of the coronavirus pandemic
17 April 2020
While the UK is no longer an EU member state, the European Commission yesterday published useful and important new guidance on implementing EU rules on asylum in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 25-page guidance can be downloaded here.
The guidance was prepared by the European Commission in cooperation with national authorities and with the support of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex).
It explains: "The Guidance illustrates how to ensure continuity of procedures as much as possible while fully ensuring the protection of people's health and fundamental rights in line with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. At the same time, it recalls the fundamental principles that must continue to apply, so that access to the asylum procedure continues to the greatest extent possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, all applications for international protection must be registered and processed, even if with certain delays. Emergency and essential treatment of illness, including for COVID-19, must be ensured.
"In this respect, the Guidance also provides practical advice and identifies tools, including by pointing to emerging best practices in Member States on how to pursue the asylum and return procedures and continue with resettlement-related activities under the current circumstances, given that current legislation does not foresee the specific consequences resulting from a pandemic situation."
The guidance is split into three separate sections covering asylum, resettlement and return.
The European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said: "Even in a health emergency, we need to guarantee individual fundamental rights. The Commission fully acknowledges the difficulties that Member States face in the current situation. In the guidelines, we give advice for practical solutions which take into account Member States' legitimate concerns and constraints. Any measure taken in the area of asylum, resettlement and return should also take full account of the health protection measures introduced by the Member States to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Vulnerable persons, in particular unaccompanied minors, and families should receive particular care and attention."
Meanwhile, The Independent reported yesterday that hundreds of asylum seekers in the UK still have to travel to Croydon to submit their claims despite the coronavirus lockdown.
Lawyers explained that because screening interviews are no longer being scheduled, asylum seekers with nowhere to live and who are at immediate risk of destitution have to personally present to the Home Office at the Croydon in order to access asylum support.
Jon Featonby of the British Red Cross told The Independent: "If you are destitute, you haven't got anywhere to live, you haven't got a way of financially supporting yourself – you have to turn up at Croydon and do a drop-in screening interview. That can't be done remotely.
"We would like to see alternatives to the screening interview process to be introduced as quickly as possible, whether that's a combination of being able to physically do screening interviews but regionally, to make sure you're cutting down that travel – or, ideally, having some way of being able to do it remotely, through digital means, which would mean people are still able to access the protection system."
The Home Office told The Independent that it was working to establish regional processes for those claiming asylum who are outside of London and the Southeast.
A Home Office spokesperson was quoted as saying: "We take the wellbeing of asylum seekers extremely seriously and have already put in place a range of measures to support asylum seekers affected by the coronavirus outbreak, including registering asylum claims in a safe way that adheres to social-distancing guidance.
"These are unprecedented times and we are adjusting processes and procedures where necessary and appropriate to adapt to these changes."
The Refugee Council last week published its key policy calls to the Home Office in response to Covid-19.
It called for the Home Office to urgently put in place an alternative mechanism to allow an asylum claim to be registered without the requirement to travel to Croydon and suggested that a person should be able to register their asylum claim by phone, post or email.