In the wake of Britain’s referendum vote to leave the EU, IRIN’s Migration Editor, Kristy Siegfried, has been considering what the ramifications may be for refugees and asylum seekers. As she writes, Brexit should leave the UK’s policies towards asylum seekers largely unaffected: “The country has long retained an opt-out from most EU asylum policies, including last September’s agreement that member states would absorb 160,000 asylum seekers relocated from Greece and Italy. The exception is the Dublin Regulation, which allowed the UK to return asylum seekers to the first country where they registered after arriving in Europe. Member states are unlikely to agree to returns from the UK in the wake of the referendum.”
She spoke with Alexander Betts, RSC Director, who voiced his concerns about the signal Brexit sends to the rest of Europe, with the EU’s asylum policies at stake. He said: “Europe’s politicians will look at what’s happened with Brexit and probably recognise there are votes to be won by trying to pander to the worst sentiments of fear and alienation, and scapegoating the EU and immigration.”
As Siegfried writes, most EU member states are bound by EU directives relating to asylum that set minimum standards for refugee reception and asylum processes, but the so-called Common European Asylum System has largely broken down in the last year, under pressure of numbers and the reluctance of member states to share the responsibility for asylum seekers arriving in frontline states more evenly.
Betts states, “The EU’s ability to coordinate responsibility-sharing has unravelled; we’ve seen a series of failures… Some of the more positive moves have been by individual countries… The types of commitments that Sweden and Germany have made at different stages don’t stem from the EU.” He adds, “There’s no inevitability that an assertion of sovereignty means no solidarity with refugees… I don’t think there’s an inevitability that Brexit has to lead to a reduction in our collective commitment to refugee protection. The main threat, I think, comes from the direction British and European politics go in.”
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