image by scagliola brakkee,

Ter Apel in the Mediterranean

A new reception and asylum system: speed and quality

The EU needs a reception and asylum system that enables member states at the external border to determine quickly who needs protection in the EU and who does not: a system that combines speed and quality. The Dutch asylum practice in Ter Apel, the main asylum processing centre, illustrates that this is possible.

Leaders across the EU are looking for a fast, effective and humane asylum system – a system which determines quickly, but thoroughly, who needs protection, which creates disincentives for people to get into boats, and which manages to return those who are found not to need protection within a short period of time. 

The question is how to make this happen. One place to look to for concrete inspiration is the Netherlands. There, a refugee can receive the first-instance decision in 17 days after entering. A court appeal against a negative first-instance decision extends this period by a maximum of another 35 days. Nowhere else in the EU are asylum decisions including appeals delivered so fast. And no other system has the same focus on quality: asylum seekers are provided with free legal aid from the outset and can make their claim in at least two long interviews. 

A similar system, fully funded by the EU, is needed in Greece, Spain and elsewhere along Europe's Mediterranean borders. An pilot project supported by interested EU member states ("Ter Apel in the Mediterranean") would, in combination with the 2016 EU-Turkey statement and take-back agreements to be concluded with West African countries of origin, allow for the swift processing of claims and the prompt return of rejected claimants. (For more on take-back agreements with African countries of origin see New deal with Africa: legal access and fast return.)

Such a process would help address the overcrowding of the camps on the Aegean islands and stabilise the EU-Turkey statement. It would prevent deaths at sea and quickly resolve the status of refugees and migrants in a thorough and serious process, allowing them to start planning their future.

This is an achievable vision for an effective European approach to asylum and border policy. Sending more border police or EASO officials will not reduce arrivals; having fast and quality asylum processes in conjunction with functioning agreements/statements with Turkey and, in the case of other Mediterranean countries, African countries of origin would. It would combine control with empathy and respect for legal obligations.