FECL 24 (May 1994):

HARMONISATION OF EUROPEAN ASYLUM POLICIES: THE YUGOSLAV EXAMPLE

Western European states are ever more reluctant to grant asylum in accordance with the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees. The number of refugees from former Yugoslavia who have been granted permanent stay permit by host states is insignificant. Instead, refugees are received on the basis of "temporary protection" schemes. This practice is effectively undermining one of the fundamental guarantees of the Geneva Convention.

This is one of the preliminary conclusions of a report published by the European Civic Forum on the situation of ex-Yugoslav refugees in 9 Western European Countries.

The report is based on an inquiry that is being led by the 'Fortress Europe?'- Circular Letter. Its findings must be considered as preliminary, as they are based on incomplete and partly non-verified information. For the time being, the inquiry includes the following countries: France, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Switzerland. The inquiry is to be continued in view of the publication of an updated version of the report that will hopefully cover further Western European countries.

 

Preliminary conclusions

1. In all host countries examined - with Sweden as the only exception - the number of ex-Yugoslav refugees who have been granted permanent protection according to the refugee status of the Geneva Convention or another form of permanent residence permit is insignificant in proportion to the total number of ex-Yugoslav asylum seekers currently staying on their territories.

This constitutes a drastic deterioration of European asylum practice. Only five years ago, it would have been inconceivable to refuse refugee status to nearly all refugees from a conflict that is taking place in the heart of Europe.

2. Thanks to the introduction on the concept of "temporary protection", the governments concerned have actually disabled the Geneva Convention without giving rise to much public criticism. Meanwhile, it is becoming clear that provisional reception offers no guarantee for the refugees concerned against premature repatriation and that it forces them into a situation of permanent uncertainty and legal insecurity. Thus, in the last analysis, refugees are artificially maintained in a psychological situation very much like the situation they have fled. Combined with the concept of "temporary protection", the ever more widespread application of the "safe country of origin" and the "third safe country" principles have further increased legal insecurity.

3. The technical-administrative barriers introduced mostly since summer 1993 by the Western European states in order to keep away unwanted refugees from former Yugoslavia are having the desired effect: Meanwhile, it has become all but impossible for would-be refugees, to seek protection - even on a temporary basis - in Western European countries. The escape routes are effectively blocked.

4. Regarding the treatment of deserters and other categories of draft resisters, no state (with the exception of France in certain particular cases) considers this form of resistance against war as relevant in determining refugee status according to the Geneva Convention. This is a further example for the contempt shown by Western European states for the obligations of the Geneva Convention and the guidelines and recommendations set up by the UNHCR, the international body charged with supervising the Convention's implementation by the signatory states. At best, draft resisters may benefit of temporary protection, on condition, however, that they can produce written evidence. In the last analysis, this restriction too is absurd. Indeed, any male refugee from former Yugoslavia at an age liable for military service - drafted or not - is threatened with forcible recruitment in case of repatriation. Even when the recruiting army is not engaged in combat at the moment of repatriation (which is often difficult to establish with certainty), the eventuality of renewed involvement of the army concerned in the war must be taken into account, considering the complexity of the conflict.

The proceeding current in all host countries is to refer to formally valid legislation and penal procedures in home countries in rejecting asylum applications of draft resisters. This approach reveals the formalistic and unrealistic approach of the phenomenon of war resistance by the Western European states. It is well known, indeed, that in all republics of the former Yugoslavia draft resisters are threatened also with "informal" punishment - e.g. by being sent to particularly dangerous sectors of the front, by de facto bans excluding them from jobs and harassment of family members. This aspect of persecution tolerated if not encouraged by the governments in the states of origin is regularly ignored in asylum procedures.

This plainly shows Western European states' profound unwillingness to give some legitimacy to the act of draft resistance - even in a war unanimously condemned by the international community.

Western European governments' main concern seems to be to avoid setting any precedent in this field that might be turned against themselves some day.

 

Source: Harmonisierung der europäischen Asylpolitik: Das Beispiel der Jugoslawien-Flüchtlinge, European Civic Forum, April 1993, 19 p., in German. Available at: Forum Civique Européen, B.P.42, F-04300 Forcalquier (France).