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EU gets tough on asylum seekers

The 15 states that make up the European Union are still in the process of forming a common immigration and asylum policy that bolsters their borders.

In response to popular fears of mass immigration, they have chosen to toughen asylum laws.

Until the Amsterdam Treaty entered into force in 1999, it was up to member states to form and enforce their own asylum laws. At the Tampere summit in October of the same year, the 15 countries agreed that a common asylum policy would be based on the application of the Geneva Conventions.

Discussions concentrated on establishing a Europe-wide definition of a refugee, which would be based on the United Nations Convention on refugees.

However, the EU had to amend its definition so that it would go beyond recognising state persecution as grounds for granting refugee status. France refused to accept the expanded definition, while Germany only recently adopted it.

List of "stable" countries

The first test for Europe-wide cooperation on asylum will be the repatriation of Afghan refugees. A plan of action is slated for approval at the end of next month and is due to be implemented in the first half of next year.

The EU is planning to establish a list of "stable" countries that would include Switzerland among European Economic Community (EEC) states. The aim is to prevent would-be refugees - already refused entry by an EU country - from seeking acceptance in a neighbouring state.

The EU is also drafting a "Dublin II" accord to replace the existing Dublin Agreement of 1990, which has not proved satisfactory.

Europe's restrictive legislation

After a lull in requests, the number of asylum seekers in Europe has increased significantly.

Germany in particular is confronted with an influx of refugees - two thirds of which come from East European countries, namely the former Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey.

Germany's asylum law remains tough even after the government relaxed certain restrictions to fall in line with its recognition of non-state persecution as grounds for granting refugee status.

According to article 16 of the Basic Law, "political refugees have a right to asylum".

Security concerns

Asylum laws in France are equally restrictive. Asylum seekers encounter numerous obstacles and only about 10 per cent are accepted after a long procedure that lasts two years.

Italy, another neighbour of Switzerland, also receives many asylum requests. Faced with an urgent situation, the government has tried to do what it can and is studying proposals to clamp down on illegal immigrants.

EU countries are intent on meeting the growth in numbers of immigrants and asylum seekers with more restrictive laws. Spain, Denmark, Great Britain are preparing - or already have in place - new laws to expel those people without sufficient reason to seek shelter.

swissinfo, Barbara Speziali in Brussels


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