The Dublin Regulation is an EU law that designates member state responsibility for examining an asylum application. Its purpose is to assign one member state to one asylum seeker to ensure that individuals do not ask for asylum in multiple countries, and that governments do not outright ignore a person's asylum request.
The regulation does this by setting forth a hierarchy of criteria to guide a member state's decision on where an individual should have their application examined. The criterion most commonly used by states is the 'first EU country of entry', meaning that the member state responsible for examining an individual's asylum application is the one through which he or she first entered into the EU. For example: an asylum seeker who came to the EU via Hungary and then traveled to Belgium, would likely be sent back to Hungary to have their application examined.
In the view of EU and government officials, the Dublin Regulation is the cornerstone of the Common European Asylum System. Without it, asylum seekers could have applications open in several member states and it wouldn't be clear which state would be responsible for making a decision.
But in the view of asylum seekers and civil society organisations working with them, the Dublin Regulation is a menace. This is because it forces asylum seekers to be in countries where they do not want to be. More often than not, asylum seekers are returned to member states located at the EU borders who have poorly functioning asylum systems. As a consequence, people are stuck in countries where they cannot get protection.
Serious questions have been raised as to whether the 'Dublin system' works well at all.
- On average, only 35% of transfer requests between member states are actually implemented. What happened to the other 65%?
- In 2011, four and half thousand asylum seekers were returned to Italy, while themselves transferring only 14 asylum seekers to other countries. Is this an equitable distribution of asylum seekers?
- Less than one percent of Dublin transfers are made to reunite asylum seekers with their families. Why so few when so many asylum seekers are separated from their families in Europe?
- The 'Dublin' Rules
- Main concerns
- Country information
Dublin, in detail
The core principle of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) is: one EU member state, one asylum application. The EU is not a region where an individual can submit asylum applications in multiple countries; nor is it a region where member states can ignore a person's application.
The Dublin Regulation is the EU law that lays down rules and procedures for the enforcement of this principle. Simply put, it means that an individual can apply for asylum in only one EU member state, and that member state is thus responsible for a decision on his or her case.
Unfortunately the reality is not as simple as this. The Dublin Regulation is a very complex law and tough to understand even for experts and legal practitioners. Asylum seekers who are affected by this law are strongly advised to seek the help of a lawyer.
In June 2013, the EU adopted a new version of the law that we and others call "Dublin III". Below is a summary of important details contained within it. For a much more detailed and technical review of Dublin III, we highly recommend downloading the information leaflet produced by the European Commission, accessible here (from page 30). In the same document there is an information leaflet intended for unaccompanied minors.
Dublin III in detail
The fact that an individual applies for asylum in one EU country does not mean that he or she will have the application examined there. The member state will initiate a 'Dublin procedure' to determine the responsible state. Dublin III is applied in 32 countries: the 28 EU member states plus Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
If the present member state determines that it's responsible for examining the asylum application, then the normal asylum procedure begins. But if another state is found to be responsible, then the authorities will seek to transfer the asylum seeker to that country as soon as possible. Under normal circumstances, this could take up to 11 months. The time depends on whether the applicant is detained or not, if he or she runs from the authorities or if an appeal is launched.
There are several reasons for why a particular EU member state may be responsible for examining an application: the presence of a family member in that country, having been issued a visa or a residence permit there, or whether the person had traveled through another Dublin III country by regular or irregular means.
The member state may decide on its own that it will examine a person's application, even if it is technically not responsible for doing so. Member states are not allowed to transfer asylum seekers to countries where it is established that their human rights could be violated.
Asylum seekers that don't agree with the decision to be sent to another EU country can contest the decision in front of a court or a tribunal. The person can ask to remain in the country until a decision on their appeal is made. Asylum seekers that go to another member state before a Dublin decision is made are very likely to be detained. A person's "risk of absconding" from the authorities is the only legal ground for detaining a person in the Dublin procedure.
At the beginning of a person's Dublin procedure, it is very likely that the state authorities will grant them a "Dublin interview". This is the point in which the authorities must inform the individual applicant about the Dublin III Regulation, rights and obligations. This is also the point in which the individual is asked to describe their journey in Europe, which EU countries they have visited, whether they have family in other EU countries, special needs and other elements that the state authorities will use to determine the responsible member state. This interview has to take place in a language the person can, or is reasonably supposed to, understand. Interpreters should be provided upon request.
Individuals can be reunited in a member state with their mother, father, brother and/or sister if: they are legally residing in a Dublin country; if the applicant is pregnant, has a newborn child, an illness, disability or is elderly; if the applicant is dependent on the assistance of another family member.
For even more detailed information about the Dublin III Regulation, click here to access the "information sheets" (from page 30). Member states are required to distribute these information sheets to all persons in Dublin procedures.
What are the main problems asylum seekers face?
A lack of information
Many asylum seekers know little or nothing about the Dublin Regulation. They don't know how to appeal Dublin decisions because they didn't know this was a possibility or even their right to do so. The rules of the Dublin Regulation are complex and very difficult for asylum seekers to understand, especially those that are in detention.
Poor living conditions
Often asylum seekers are sent to Dublin countries and end up living destitute. The availability of decent housing, daily subsistence support and other basic services are key reasons why an asylum seeker would feel more protected in one EU country than another.
The Dublin system negatively impacts families too. Mothers are kept apart from their children and couples, even those who are married, are separated from each other despite rules in the Dublin Regulation that aim to uphold family unity. People do not feel protected when they are kept apart from their families.
A lack of choice
Asylum seekers do not choose to go to an EU country as if it were a free and informed decision. They come to Europe to find protection, and they continue moving among EU countries until they feel that they are protected.
Asylum seekers feel protected where they can access decent housing and basic services, and also where they can reunite with their families and maintain a livelihood. That so many of these conditions are unavailable is a reason why a vast majority of asylum seekers feel the Dublin system to be unjust. People want to be somewhere where they can feel dignified as well as protected.
Getting help from lawyers
Lawyers play a critical role in safeguarding the rights of asylum seekers in Dublin procedures. However not many asylum seekers actually have a chance to meet with a lawyer. This is detrimental because having the support of a lawyer increases one's chances of better understanding the Dublin Regulation and one's ability to enforce their rights.
In Europe, the majority of asylum seekers in Dublin procedures are detained. Currently, detention is used rather arbitrarily without examining a person's case. Detainees are much less likely to be well informed about Dublin than non-detainees are. Moreover, detention is a harmful to nearly everyone who experiences it. People experience severe symptoms of depression and anxiety, and debilitating levels of stress.
A disruptive asylum system
The Dublin system severely disrupts people's lives and their search for protection. There is no evidence that the Dublin Regulation makes it any easier, safer or reliable for a person to access asylum procedures in Europe. Rather, it is an obstacle to protection.
Despite the regulation's aim to assigning one EU country to one asylum application, people continue to move around because asylum systems in Europe are so highly divergent. Because of constant transfers, people often visit multiple countries before actually submitting an asylum application. Their access to protection is truly interrupted.
What does JRS call for?
Better information for asylum seekers
The Dublin Regulation is a complex law that is difficult even for experts to understand. Asylum seekers are already preoccupied with numerous pressing concerns and do not have the resources to study the regulation on their own. This is why it is important for Member State authorities to provide information to asylum seekers as clear and simply as possible. In the new regulation, state authorities are obliged to distribute information sheets to every asylum seeker in the Dublin system. This is a good step; what they must do in addition is to verbally explain the regulation and ensure that asylum seekers really understand what their rights and obligations are.
Quality free legal assistance
Alongside having access to good information, asylum seekers in the Dublin system must have access to suitably qualified lawyers free-of-charge. Having a lawyer increases an asylum seeker's chances that Member State authorities will make a decision that is in their best interests. Asylum seekers who are assisted by lawyers are apt to know more about their rights and how they can enforce them.
End the automatic detention of asylum seekers
It is very common practice for a Member State to detain an asylum seeker while they proceed with determining which other EU country is responsible for assessing their asylum application. This practice persists despite the overwhelming evidence that putting people in detention severely harms their physical and mental health. The new regulation states that asylum seekers cannot be detained just because they are subject to Dublin procedures. This is a positive step forward. Member States must put those words into action by actually keeping Dublin asylum seekers out of detention.
Provide a decent and dignified standard of living
Several EU Member States do not provide adequate housing, subsistence support and even appropriate access to medical care. Consequently, asylum seekers are often forced to apply for asylum in countries where they cannot live with dignity. All EU Member States have a duty to ensure that asylum seekers are able to live in decent housing and not on the street; that they are provided daily subsistence support, especially because asylum seekers are usually not allowed to work; that families with children are supported.
As much as possible, give people a choice
Asylum seekers want to be in a country where they feel that they have the best chances of getting protection for themselves and their loved ones. They also want to be in a country where their family is already present. These are reasons that make sense; what doesn't make sense is transferring asylum seekers to EU countries where they have no family, or where protection standards are poor. The best way for EU states to uphold asylum seekers' dignity is to give them as much choice as possible when it comes to determining where to submit their asylum application.
In June 2013, JRS Europe and 10 partners published Protection Interrupted, a report that reveals how the Dublin Regulation impedes asylum protection in Europe. The report is based on interviews with 257 asylum seekers in nine EU countries.
The report outlines in several ways how the Dublin Regulation hinders asylum seekers' search for protection. Firstly is people's lack of knowledge about how the regulation actually works and what their rights are. About half of the report's interviewees said they know little or nothing about Dublin, and nor did they know how to appeal their case before a court. Secondly, people are frequently removed to EU countries that do not offer decent housing and basic services, leaving many people homeless and destitute. Thirdly, asylum seekers are detained in multiple EU countries, seemingly for no other reason than being an asylum seeker.
A major problem revealed by this report are the divergent asylum procedures ans basic conditions found among EU countries. Asylum seekers in France are often homeless because there is not enough housing. In Belgium, asylum seekers in a Dublin procedure are routinely detained, but in Sweden many are not. Though Italian law requires that asylum seekers in Dublin procedure are given housing, in practice many are not. In Germany, lawyers are dissuaded from helping asylum seekers because reimbursement rates are too low.
Above all, the study finds that people feel better protected when they can personally influence the decisions governments take on their asylum cases.
Lives on Hold
In early 2013, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) and several other partners -- included JRS -- published Lives on Hold, a study comparing Dublin practices in 11 EU Member States. It's main finding is that practices are so divergent among Member States that asylum seekers are not always guaranteed a fair and efficient examination of their asylum application.
EU Member State authorities do not always look to family unity when determining the responsible country. Consequently, many families are forcibly separated. Asylum seekers are not always correctly informed about decisions taken on their case, and many face serious legal obstacles to appeal decisions. Notwithstanding the negative impacts faced by asylum seekers, this study finds that the Dublin Regulation does not even make Europe's asylum system more efficient: on average, only one-third of transfer decisions are actually enforced, and states frequently exchange equivalent numbers of asylum seekers between themselves, highlighting the illogical nature of the Dublin system.
Getting a handle on the Dublin Regulation
The Dublin Information Country Sheets provide concrete data on how the Dublin Regulation functions within EU member states.
The purpose of the sheets is to provide an asylum seeker with relevant information about the EU member state s/he is being transferred to. The sheets do not provide legal advice or counselling, nor do they provide information on how to challenge transfer decisions. Instead, the sheets are intended to help asylum seekers become familiar with Dublin rules and procedures in the member state they’re being transferred to.
These sheets are best used when given to an asylum seeker with a verbal explanation given by an expert, be it a lawyer, social worker or NGO staff person.
**The data on these sheets was last updated in September 2011. Since then, a new Dublin Regulation has come into force, which may affect some of the information contained within the sheets. We suggest that you review section named "The Dublin Rules" on this web page. For more detailed questions about a specific country, we suggest that you contact the relevant JRS office or another NGO in that country (each sheet contains contact details).**