6 September 1995

Doc. 7368


on refugees and asylum-seekers

in central and eastern Europe

(Rapporteur: Mr IWIŃSKI,

Poland, Socialist Group)


      The countries of central and eastern Europe have, since the democratic reforms of 1989, become major transit countries for asylum-seekers heading for western Europe, as well as, to a lesser extent, host countries. Although some of them have made considerable progress in refugee protection, others offer no, or purely illusory, means of obtaining asylum. Restrictive measures taken by most west European countries vis-à-vis asylum-seekers also give rise to grave concern about the possible intention of shifting the "burden" of asylum procedures to the countries of central and eastern Europe.

      Certain member states of the Council of Europe have not yet acceded to the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Furthermore, other countries have not brought their legislation, structures and administrative practice into line with this Convention. The creation of effective refugee protection systems requires solutions devised and put into practice on a pan-European scale. The report suggests that all Council of Europe member states fully apply the Geneva Convention and that the Council of Europe become the favoured forum for political collaboration on these matters.

I. Draft recommendation

1.       The countries of central and eastern Europe, not involved in large-scale movements of refugees until the democratic reforms of 1989, now face the arrival of asylum-seekers, including people for whom asylum is a means of getting away from difficult living conditions in their countries of origin. They are also confronted with the arrival of refugees and asylum-seekers from former Yugoslavia.

2.       Most of the countries in the region concerned serve mainly as transit points for asylum-seekers on their way to the countries of western Europe, which, on account of their high standard of living, are more attractive to refugees. In comparative terms, the number of asylum-seekers recorded in central and eastern Europe is undoubtedly lower. Nevertheless, with favourable economic development, certain countries of central and eastern Europe will, in turn, become receiving countries.

3.       The Assembly points out that the central and east European region is not a homogeneous entity, but is made up of states each of which has its own characteristics and its political, economic and social priorities. Therefore, it considers that the refugee protection systems in some countries of central and eastern Europe may be expected to differ to some extent from those in operation in western Europe.

4.       In the face of a large increase in the number of asylum-seekers, most of the countries of western Europe have adopted restrictive measures in this field. This toughening has prompted grave concern in the countries of central and eastern Europe, which are afraid of becoming host countries by default and even refoulement areas. Therefore these last-named countries are often obliged to adopt similar restrictive measures.

5.       The Assembly emphasises the need to ensure that everyone fleeing persecution enjoys protection consistent with international legislation and with humanitarian principles and is persuaded that this aim can be achieved only through more intensive pan-European co-operation. Nevertheless, it recognises that the material level of that protection can only be in keeping with the economic and social capabilities of the host countries in central and eastern Europe.

6.       The Assembly therefore recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

i.       in accordance with the proposals in Recommendation 1236 (1994) on the right of asylum, re-examine the possibility of amending the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in order to include therein the right of asylum, or draw up a separate agreement in this field;

ii.       following the disbanding of the Vienna Group, set up within the Council of Europe a permanent forum for co-operation and for the co-ordination of policies on refugees and migration, enjoying sufficient political weight, which might be based upon the existing bodies, on condition that their terms of reference, membership and means are redefined;

iii.       give particular attention to the setting up of this forum at the Conference of European Ministers responsible for Migration Affairs, to be held in Poland in 1996;

iv.       take the initiative of setting up a multilateral assistance fund responsible for providing, in co-operation with the intergovernmental organisations concerned, financial and logistic assistance to the countries of central and eastern Europe in order to enable them to meet their needs in the asylum field, including the costs of repatriating persons whose requests for asylum have been rejected;

v.       actively involve itself in the organisation of the regional conference to address the problems of refugees, returnees, displaced persons and related migratory movements in the Commonwealth of Independent States and relevant neighbouring countries, which is to be held by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1996;

vi.       invite the member states:

      a. to harmonise their asylum policies according to the highest standards in order to ensure both the protection and the fair distribution of asylum-seekers within Europe;

      b. to include in the readmission agreements to which they are parties provisions containing guarantees to protect asylum-seekers;

      c. to respect the principles contained in the Committee of Ministers' resolutions and recommendations concerning refugees and asylum-seekers and, in particular:

      .       Resolution (67) 14 on asylum to persons in danger of persecution, which invites the member states to act in a particularly liberal and humanitarian spirit in relation to the persons who seek asylum on their territory;

      .       Recommendation No. R (94) 5 on guidelines to inspire practices of the member states concerning the arrival of asylum-seekers at European airports;

vii.       invite the countries of central and eastern Europe:

      a. to ratify, without reservations, if they have not already done so, the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its Protocol of 1967;

      b. to bring their legislation and their administrative structures and practice in the refugee field into line with that Convention and its Protocol;

      c. to co-operate closely with the competent international organisations, particularly the UNHCR, and to comply with the latter's interpretation of international legislation relating to refugees;

      d. to examine the asylum requests of any persons sent back under a readmission agreement and, in the event of such persons being consecutively sent back to a country other than their country of origin, to make sure that their life and liberty will not be in danger there and that they will have a genuine opportunity to lodge an application for asylum there;

      e. to become members of the Social Development Fund of the Council of Europe and to make full use of its resources in order to help to solve the social problems to which the presence of refugees on their territory gives rise;

viii.       invite the countries of western Europe to give financial and technical assistance to the countries of central and eastern Europe in order to enable them to fulfil their humanitarian obligations towards refugees and to support programmes of assistance set up by the international organisations in this area;

ix.       invite the UNHCR and IOM to step up their assistance to the countries of central and eastern Europe, taking account, in the solutions proposed, of the conditions specific to each country of this region.

II. Explanatory memorandum




1.       Introduction       6

2.       Main features of the refugee situation in central and

      eastern Europe       7

      a.       Comparative numbers of refugees registered       7

      b.       Comparative numbers of persons transiting       8

      c.       Increasing numbers of lawfully resident aliens       8

      d.       Increasing numbers of illegal immigrants       9

3.       Legal and administrative measures to protect refugees in the

      countries of central and eastern Europe       9

      a.       1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees and

      the 1967 Protocol       9

      b.       Legislation on refugees       10

      c.       Administrative structures       11

4.       Asylum crisis in Europe - the western response       12

5.       Readmission agreements       13

6.       Need for a concerted pan-European approach       14

      a.       Policy co-ordination       14

      b.       Material and technical assistance to the countries of

      central and eastern Europe       15

      c.       Harmonisation of asylum legislation       16

7.       Conclusions       17

1. Introduction

1.       Your Rapporteur considers it impossible to solve the refugee problem in central and eastern Europe without taking account of the pan-European context. Consequently, this report will touch on the general problem of the asylum and refugee crisis in Europe, taking as a point of departure and as an illustration the specific situation of central and eastern Europe. It will attempt to make proposals aimed at providing those fleeing persecution with protection in accordance with international legislation and humanitarian principles, taking account of both the economic and social conditions in the countries of central and eastern Europe and their concern to avoid becoming a "refoulement area". Useful results can only be obtained if our approaches are conceived and implemented at European level.

2.       It is important to refer to the work done in recent years by the Parliamentary Assembly and its Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography. The committee has organised three hearings on refugees and migrants in central and eastern Europe, the first in Helsinki in 1991, the second in Budapest in July 1992 and the third in Warsaw in May 1994. The results of the first two meetings have already been used to prepare a report on migratory flows in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, presented to the Assembly in June 19921.

3.       Your Rapporteur has also drawn on the work and conclusions of the Colloquy on legislation relating to refugees organised in Bucharest from 3 to 5 November 19942 by the Sub-Committee on Refugees under the Programme of Inter-Parliamentary Co-operation with the countries of central and eastern Europe. This report was also sent, for comment, to the appropriate authorities of the countries concerned.

4.       Before getting to the heart of the matter, your Rapporteur should point out that the report refers primarily to the situation in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia and the Baltic states. The case of refugees and displaced persons in the former Yugoslav republics has already been considered in four reports and two opinions presented by the committee to the Parliamentary Assembly3 and is the subject of three further reports currently before the committee4. Moreover, while your Rapporteur occasionally refers to the situation in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), he considers that a detailed consideration of this area would be beyond the scope of this report and should possibly be the subject of a separate report5.

2. Main features of the refugee situation

in central and eastern Europe

5.       The statistics produced by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) showed the number of refugees worldwide at the end of 1994 to be under 15 million. To these must be added economic migrants, for whom unjustified requests for asylum have become the main way of escaping the insecurity and difficult living conditions of their countries of origin.

6.       Central and east European countries are greatly affected by this development and their situation has radically changed since the democratic transformations of 1989. Having previously been a source of refugees fleeing the communist regimes (even if many of them, particularly in the 1980s, owed their refugee status to the ideological divide between East and West rather than to compliance with the criteria of the Geneva Convention), they quickly became transit countries for refugees heading westwards. Nevertheless, these countries are not a homogeneous entity, as each has its own specific features. While central Europe, because of its economic development, may well become the final destination of increasing numbers of refugees, some east European countries are still a major source of immigrants both for central and west European countries.

7.       It has been no easy task to identify general trends in the situation of refugees and asylum-seekers in the countries of central and eastern Europe owing to the lack of reliable, recent data and also the differences between the countries in question. However, the ensuing observations might help towards an understanding of certain specific features of the region.

a.       Comparative numbers of asylum-seekers registered

8.       The numbers of asylum-seekers registered in central and eastern Europe, namely a few hundred or, at most, a few thousand persons, are undoubtedly lower than those for western Europe, where they total tens or even hundreds of thousands. There are no accurate statistics for comparable periods, but the following might provide an example:

—       In Bulgaria, 3 500 requests for asylum were registered between 1989 and May 1994 (294 of which were accepted);

—       in the Czech Republic, 1 337 persons obtained refugee status between 1990 and May 1995, and 721 requests for asylum are still being considered;

—       in Hungary, 4 154 persons were registered as refugees under the 1951 Geneva Convention between 1988 and June 1995 and 124 933 were granted temporary protection over the same period (of whom 71 931 from former Yugoslavia and 54 036 from Romania);

—       in Poland, 1 100 requests for asylum were registered between 1989 and 1993 (110 of which were accepted);

—       in Romania, 2 358 requests for asylum had been registered by the end of December 1994, 342 persons obtained refugee status (besides, 41 persons obtained refugee status from the UNHCR Liaison Office in Bucarest prior to the establishment of a competent Romanian body in 1991);

—       in the Slovak Republic, 323 requests for asylum were registered between January 1993 and December 1994, 144 of which were accepted.

9.       Where the origin of the asylum-seekers is concerned, the situation varies considerably from one country to another. For example, whereas the majority of asylum-seekers in Bulgaria and Romania come from the Middle East, Asia and Africa, in the Czech Republic they are mainly CIS, Bulgarian and Romanian citizens, and in Hungary (with the exception of refugees from former Yugoslavia) mainly Romanians and CIS citizens6, etc. Like western countries, central and east European states grant temporary protection to refugees from former Yugoslavia, or at least from Bosnia-Herzegovina. There are some 1 500 in the Czech Republic, 1 000 in Poland and 1 000 in Slovakia.

b.       Comparative numbers of persons transiting

10.       The available statistics show clearly that central and east European countries are mainly used for transit. For example, it is estimated that in 1992 100 000 asylum-seekers transited via Poland while only 590 requests for asylum were submitted there. In the Czech Republic in 1993 some 43 000 individuals were placed in detention for having attempted to cross the border illegally, particularly that with the Federal Republic of Germany (in 1994 the number fell to 20 000). In Latvia it is estimated that between 30 000 and 40 000 persons transit illegally within its territory, 1 500 to 2 000 of whom are intercepted7. It very often happens that the refugees do not submit their request for asylum until they have been intercepted by the police, and many of those who do submit them do not wait to hear the result but continue their journey westwards at the first opportunity.

c.       Increasing numbers of lawfully resident aliens

11.       In central Europe, the increase in immigration is primarily due to lawfully resident persons, unlike the trend in western Europe, which is grappling with a huge influx of asylum-seekers. For example, over 46 000 foreigners were working in the Czech Republic at the end of 1993, namely two-and-a-half times as many as in 1992.

d.       Increasing numbers of illegal immigrants

12.       The increase in the number of persons living clandestinely is an indisputable fact. According to national estimates, there are some 100 000 illegal immigrants in the Czech Republic, 20 000 in Romania, and between 12 500 and 15 000 in Bulgaria8.

13.       What conclusions can we draw from these trends? It would be an exaggeration to say that it is mainly because of the weaknesses in the asylum systems in these countries that they attract fewer asylum-seekers. Your Rapporteur considers that it is more because of the less favourable economic and social situation in central and eastern Europe. The level of benefits granted to refugees at best corresponds to the general standard of living in these countries, which, on the whole, is still below that of western countries.

3. Legal and administrative measures to protect

refugees in the countries of central and eastern Europe

14.       The increasing flows of migrants and refugees in the region have forced central and east European countries to introduce a legislative and administrative framework tailored to the new realities. Where refugee protection is concerned, the governments have virtually had to start from scratch, but major progress has been made since 1989, particularly in the countries which have acceded to the Geneva Convention. However, it cannot be said that the reception and treatment of asylum-seekers now meet protection needs.

15.       Your Rapporteur considers that, in the present state of affairs, it is difficult to expect the countries of central and eastern Europe to follow the example of western Europe and immediately to set up similar refugee protection systems, since their political, economic and social situation is substantially different. It is in fact probable that the states having both the intention and the potential to become members of the European Union in the relatively short term will bring their standards into line with those of the Union's states as soon as possible. On the other hand, those which will not be joining the European Union in the near future will need more time to identify with western standards in fields such as that of refugees.

a.       1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol

16.       The Geneva Convention is a prime international legal instrument for the protection of refugees, establishing a definition of the term "refugee", the right of non-refoulement and basic rules on the treatment of refugees (legal status, social and economic rights, etc). Since 1989, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Russia and the Slovak Republic (as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan) have acceded to the Convention. However, other states (Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine) have not yet followed suit as they consider that their difficult economic and social conditions preclude acceptance of international obligations vis-à-vis refugees. Similarly, they are afraid of becoming a "buffer zone" and having to consider requests for asylum from any refugees who might be sent back to them.

17.       Your rapporteur considers that no state which calls itself genuinely democratic can refuse to face up to its responsibilities in terms of protecting persecuted persons. Furthermore, the countries of central and eastern Europe should hold this principle particularly dear, as many of their nationals have sought asylum after fleeing the communist regimes. However, when acceding to the Convention these countries must be sure of obtaining the necessary technical and material assistance to help them honour their new commitments.

18.       While the Geneva Convention does provide a basis for refugee protection, its ratification is merely the starting point, since ratification is rather meaningless unless it is accompanied by legislative and administrative implementing measures.

b.       Legislation on refugees

19.       The situation in this field differs considerably from one country to another. In central Europe, only the former Czech and Slovak Federal Republic (CSFR) has adopted a specific piece of legislation on refugee status, on 16 November 1990. Since the demise of the CSFR, the Czech and Slovak Republics have continued to implement this law, which the former amended in December 1993. A proposal has been prepared for a new law in Slovakia, and is currently being debated.

20.       Hungary has adopted several governmental decrees on the procedure for determining refugee status, and a legislative decree establishing the rights of "recognised" refugees (owing to Hungary's geographical reservation to the Geneva Convention, only European refugees are recognised, although requests submitted by non-European asylum-seekers are examined by the UNHCR with a view to preparing a decision to be taken by the Hungarian authorities). Poland, which has no specific legislation on the matter, applies the rules of the administrative code to asylum procedure.

21.       Romania, where draft legislation is being discussed in Parliament, has been implementing provisional administrative and legal measures, while Bulgaria, where legislation is also pending, has adopted a decree on the matter and amended the legislation on the residence of aliens to include the right to refugee status, the principle of non-refoulement, etc.

22.       As the Baltic states have not ratified the Geneva Convention they currently have no legal basis for any asylum procedure on decisions to grant residence permits to asylum-seekers. That being the case, the latter are considered as illegal immigrants, that is to say they are arrested and then extradited. Lithuania, for example, considers illegal immigration as an aggravated offence punishable by up to 5 years' imprisonment. Nevertheless, according to information received from the authorities of Latvia, the latter have taken steps to ensure respect of the principle of non-refoulement. Unfortunately, your Rapporteur has not been able to consult the relevant texts, currently in translation into English.

23.       However, the situation in Russia shows that even in a country which has ratified the Geneva Convention and adopted a law on refugee status, unless there are implementing measures establishing the practical steps involved in the asylum procedure, refugees have no chance of being recognised as such and the safeguards provided by the legislation are purely illusory. UNHCR has recorded the presence of some 70 000 asylum-seekers in Russia who, despite having entered the country legally, are threatened with expulsion as their visas expire.

24.       In the light of this general situation, we must make two recommendations to the states in the region. Firstly, it is crucial that the status and rights of refugees (eg residence, access to employment, social services, accommodation and education, family reunification, etc) be recognised and stipulated in law. This is the only way to guarantee openness in the asylum procedure and the legal and social stability of refugees, who would otherwise depend on the government's goodwill, which is liable to change according to the country's political and socio-economic situation.

25.       Secondly, whereas the absence of laws is a major obstacle, the quality of existing texts often leaves something to be desired. For instance, according to information from UNHCR, existing legislation contains a number of provisions contrary to the Geneva Convention which must be deleted or replaced. The main provisions in question concern:

—       establishing the circumstances under which refugee status can be withheld or withdrawn (particularly where the asylum-seeker is convicted of a criminal offence within the territory of the country of asylum);

—       granting refugee status for a specified period without explicitly providing for its renewal;

—       disproportionate sanctions (suspension of asylum procedure) for refugees who fail to comply with certain legal obligations (co-operation in asylum procedure, compliance with the rules and regulations of refugee camps, etc).

26.       Other shortcomings exist and must be remedied, including a lack of thoroughness in the examination of requests for asylum, which results in a high rate of negative decisions; lack of information on procedures and of legal advice, which means that asylum-seekers are ignorant of their rights and obligations; inadequate interpreting services for asylum-seekers; the extreme length of asylum procedures; and difficulty of access to procedures for asylum-seekers.

27.       In the absence of specific legislation on refugees, it is important for other laws, particularly those relating to the residence of aliens, to recognise refugee status and lay down the rights attaching to it.

c.       Administrative structures

28.       While there are lacunae in central and east European legislation on refugees, all the countries which have ratified the Geneva Convention have set up administrative structures responsible for refugee affairs. As a general rule such bodies are answerable to the Ministry of the Interior, except in Romania (where they are interministerial, coordinated by the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare) and Bulgaria (where they come under the Council of Ministers).

29.       Your Rapporteur should stress that UNHCR has played a decisive role in establishing refugee structures and procedures. First of all, in the absence of appropriate structures, it has dealt with refugee status determination by considering requests submitted by persons arriving in these countries, whose authorities have subsequently ratified its decisions. Secondly, UNHCR also plays a significant role in training civil servants who deal with refugees in the course of their duties (refugee and immigration departments, border police, the social services, etc).

4. Asylum crisis in Europe

- the western response

30.       Given the fact that the countries of central and eastern Europe are major transit points, their situation is inextricably linked with that of western Europe, the intended destination of most refugees and persons claiming refugee status. In 1992, the main west European countries of asylum registered 692 686 requests for asylum (compared with 65 400 in 1983 and 313 700 in 1989). Germany topped the tables that year with 438 191 applications. Simultaneously, the rate of recognition of refugee status was fairly low (in 1993, 3.2% in Germany, 6.8% in the United Kingdom and 26.9% in France)9.

31.       West European states were therefore forced to adapt their asylum procedures to this new situation and most of them have adopted measures to this end, even if the exact form they take differs from one country to another (changing the Constitution, laws, regulations or practice).

32.       The measures include stricter visa requirements, sanctions on traffickers who bring in refugees illegally, the rejection of manifestly ill-founded requests, shorter procedures and reduction of backlogs, limiting the right of appeal, withdrawing work permits and reducing benefits for asylum-seekers. A number of states apply the "safe third country" rule (Germany, Denmark and France) and the "safe country of origin" rule (this rule is recognised in German, Finnish, Dutch and Swiss legislation, while other countries use it in practice). Lastly, several readmission agreements (some forty to date) have been concluded.

33.       The European Union has developed multilateral treaties. For instance, the Schengen Agreement on the Gradual Abolition of Controls at the Common Frontiers, which has been signed by nine European Union states, came into force on 26 March 1995 in respect of seven states (Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal), pending fulfilment by two other countries (Italy and Greece) of the criteria laid down in the agreement. A further agreement, the Dublin Convention for determining the state responsible for examining applications for asylum, has been signed by the European Union member states, though they have not yet all ratified it. It should be added that these texts will probably not be applicable solely in the European Union, since other states (eg Switzerland) are planning to conclude with the EU parallel agreements to these Conventions.

34.       Without trying to judge the real impact of these measures, we can note that half as many refugees were registered in 1994 (approximately 340 000) than in 1992. Since it is increasingly difficult to obtain refugee status, a number of potential asylum-seekers have no doubt opted for illegal channels and are therefore not included in the statistics, while others have decided not to immigrate at all. However, these measures may lead to a long-term increase in the number of refugees in countries bordering on the European Union, particularly those of central Europe. The latter, fearful of becoming host countries by default, are therefore obliged to take similar restrictive measures.

35.       Your Rapporteur thinks we should also investigate whether certain measures mentioned in paragraph 32 comply with the states' international commitments vis-à-vis the protection of refugees. For instance, it is obvious that introducing a strict visa policy combined with sanctions for smugglers of illegal immigrants minimises the chances of refugees acceding legally to asylum procedures. Such an investigation would be beyond the scope of this report but might be the subject of a separate report.

5. Readmission agreements

36.       Readmission agreements are no new phenomenon, but have begun to be used to send asylum-seekers back to the "country of first asylum" (the previous country of transit or residence, in which they could have requested protection), or of returning asylum-seekers whose application for asylum has been rejected to their country of origin or a third country. Bilateral readmission agreements have become the main legal instruments for co-operation with the countries of central and eastern Europe in the refugee field. Virtually all the latter (with the exception of the CIS), have already concluded such agreements, both with the European Union states and with each other.

37.       Where the underlying principle of readmission agreements is concerned, your Rapporteur accepts that they do have a raison d'être, an opinion shared by UNHCR. On the one hand, no effort to eliminate abuse of the right of asylum can succeed if those who have been found not to fulfil the conditions for obtaining asylum do not actually return to their countries of origin. This apparently straightforward fact is, however, fraught with difficulty, mainly because an alien's residence in a given country can only be terminated with the co-operation of his country of origin, particularly where the person in question has destroyed his identity papers. On the other hand, it is generally accepted that a refugee is entitled to protection in the first host country, provided it complies with the principles secured in the international instruments on refugee protection without geographical reservations.

38.       It must be noted that even though the main aim of readmission agreements is to secure the readmission of asylum-seekers or those whose applications have been rejected, they seldom contain provisions on the latter category. Consequently, it is essential to include a number of safeguards in these agreements to protect refugees.

39.       The signatory parties should ensure that an asylum-seeker (or an asylum-seeker whose application has been rejected) will not be sent back to a state where his life or freedom will be in danger because of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group or political opinion. That would be contrary to the principle of non-refoulement recognised in the 1951 Geneva Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights and also the United Nations Convention against Torture. Such efforts necessitate close monitoring of the human rights situation in the countries to which asylum-seekers are sent back and periodical verification, which might be a matter for the UNHCR.

40.       It is very important to make sure that an asylum-seeker who has been removed is actually able to submit his request in the state of readmission. It is inadmissible to send a refugee to a country which has not ratified the Geneva Convention (or has ratified it with a geographical reservation affecting the country in question) or which has not introduced asylum procedures. Certain administrative practices can also prevent the examination of requests from readmitted persons. For example, in the case of a refugee who has requested asylum in country X and then travels on, without awaiting the results of the procedure, to country Y, where he submits a second request for asylum, if he is sent back from country Y to country X, the latter may consider that the person in question has demonstrated that he does not want asylum there and throw out his request.

41.       Your Rapporteur would therefore back the UNHCR proposal to include clauses in readmission agreements to the effect that the states Parties undertake to ensure that a request for asylum is examined by one of them. Although there are often economic reasons for refugees to choose one country rather than another, it is also true that in view of the difference in asylum procedures in the various European states, the refugee may assume that his chances of being recognised are greater in a different country. Consequently, it is vital that asylum procedures be harmonised throughout Europe.

6. Need for a concerted pan-European approach

42.       It is undeniable that the introduction of efficient refugee protection systems in central and eastern Europe will necessitate a joint effort on a European scale. At the political level, in view of the current thrust of asylum policies in western Europe, the main aim must be to dispel doubts about any intentions to "transfer the burden" of asylum-seekers eastwards. We must be very clear on this point, because the current discussions on "burden-sharing" might be interpreted as an attempt to limit the number of refugees reaching western Europe by extending the system for taking in asylum-seekers to central and eastern Europe. In that case, central and east European countries might be tempted to resort to certain measures or practices in order to discourage refugees from residing within their territory (eg by not ratifying the Geneva Convention or ignoring its provisions). In order to prevent such a situation, it is vital that we co-ordinate the relevant policies with the countries of central and eastern Europe and involve them in western initiatives.

43.       In practical terms, we must provide financial and technical assistance to these countries so that they can tailor their legal and administrative structures (including staff training) to the reception of asylum-seekers, the processing of requests and the integration of refugees.

44.       On the legal front, we must harmonise refugee legislation throughout Europe in accordance with the highest standards, so that countries with more liberal regulations do not have an excessive share of the responsibility for protecting refugees.

a.       Policy co-ordination

45.       Some fifteen multilateral forums currently deal with the problems of migration and refugees in Europe, and they have set up between 30 and 45 sub-groups responsible for specific matters. In the framework of the Council of Europe, the European Committee on Migration (CDMG) has launched a project concerning the repatriation of persons following the political changes in central and eastern Europe. In addition, the Ad hoc Committee of Experts on the Legal Aspects of Territorial Asylum, Refugees and Stateless Persons (CAHAR) is starting activities on both the concept of "safe country" from the perspective of transit countries and voluntary return by asylum-seekers and other aliens to their country or area of origin.

46.       The work of these two bodies has been closely linked to the follow-up to the Conference of Ministers on the Movement of Persons from central and east European Countries, held on 24 and 25 January 1991 (Vienna Conference). This Conference was a response to the need to identify a forum in which to discuss the new situation in Europe vis-à-vis the movement of persons, and was followed by some twenty meetings (the Vienna Process) on such subjects as freedom of movement, adapting admission and asylum policies, information exchange, visa policies, etc.

47.       Since 1991, many central and east European states have joined the Council of Europe, are actively participating in the activities of the CDMG and the CAHAR, and have developed close co-operation with UNHCR and the IOM. Similarly, specialised forums have been set up, such as the Budapest Group responsible for following up the recommendations of the European Conference on Uncontrolled Migration. Regional initiatives have emerged such as that involving the states in the Baltic Sea region. In view of this development, the Group of Senior Officials responsible for Follow-up to the Vienna Conference (the Vienna Group) in September 1994 decided to discontinue its meetings and transfer its mandate to the Council of Europe, or where appropriate to other specialised forums.

48.       As things now stand, no single body seems to have sufficient political weight to induce the European governments to co-ordinate their refugee and migration policies. Your Rapporteur considers that we need a permanent forum in which the European countries can hold consultations, put forward their points of view and gradually harmonise their policies.

49.       The Council of Europe, which comprises 36 European countries and is based on respect for human rights, could take on this role, particularly in view of the decision to transfer the work of the Vienna Group to it. Since the terms of reference and the resources of the CDMG and the CAHAR are such that they are currently unable to take on such work, the Committee of Ministers should launch in-depth discussions on the means of establishing such a forum, which might be based on existing bodies, subject to redefining their terms of reference, membership and resources. In this context, your Rapporteur considers that the solution adopted by the Committee of Ministers in June 1995, involving synchronisation of CDMG and CAHAR meetings and the organisation of joint meetings of these two bodies attended by non-member states and international organisations, is just a first step in this direction. It is therefore highly desirable that particular attention be paid to this matter at the Conference of European Ministers responsible for Migration Affairs to be held in Poland in 1996.

b.       Material and technical assistance to the countries of central and eastern Europe

50.       Central and eastern Europe, in its current transition to the market economy, is experiencing budgetary austerity and can scarcely bear the costs arising out of increased migration and refugee flows. We must therefore set up an assistance system on a multilateral, permanent basis.

51.       Bilateral financial and technical aid does exist. Under the terms of the agreement on the impact of migratory movements which the Federal Republic of Germany concluded with Poland in May 1993, Poland was granted financial aid of 120 million DM for 1993 and 1994. The measures provided for in this agreement include the setting up of an infrastructure for refugees and asylum-seekers. A similar agreement providing for financial aid of 60 million DM was signed between the FRG and the Czech Republic on 3 November 1994. It is, however, important to use such aid for asylum-seekers, not for stepping up border controls.

52.       Although these bilateral measures are necessary, they are not equal to the needs. It would be appropriate to set up multilateral assistance programmes in order to finance the implementation and improvement of refugee protection systems in accordance with the Geneva Convention, and also to cope with massive, chaotic refugee flows such as the exodus of refugees from former Yugoslavia. Such assistance might take the form of a Fund for providing financial and logistical aid to the countries in question, as proposed in aforementioned Recommendation 1236 (1994) on the right of asylum, adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly in April 1994. Similarly, your Rapporteur urges member states to respond generously to the appeals for funds made by the international organisations seeking to finance their activities in central and eastern Europe.

53.       Special funds will also be needed for repatriations. How can the countries of central and eastern Europe bear the very high costs of sending refugees back to their countries of origin, regarded as excessive even by the western countries? In this context, your Rapporteur draws attention to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) programme of assistance for the return of migrants trapped in central and eastern Europe, and asks member states to provide funds in response to the IOM's appeal for this programme.

54.       Governments should make more of the facilities provided by the Council of Europe's Social Development Fund, whose primary purpose is now "to help in solving the social problems with which European countries are or may be faced as a result of the presence of refugees, displaced persons or migrants consequent upon movements of refugees or other forced movements of population, and as a result of the presence of victims of natural or ecological disasters". We must publicise the existence of the "emergency account" which provides loans without interest to meet the urgent needs of refugees and displaced persons - the victims of acts of war or other similar exceptional circumstances. Consequently, your Rapporteur invites the countries of central and eastern Europe which are not yet in the Fund to join as soon as possible10.

c.       Harmonisation of asylum legislation

55.       From the point of view both of the refugees (who need equivalent standards of protection) and of the Governments (which need a fairer distribution of the "refugee burden"), it is desirable that Europe's refugee protection systems should be brought into line in the near future. As far as possible, this harmonisation must be based upon the best current standards, and this should be achieved by, inter alia:

—       inducing European states to accept the UNHCR interpretations of the Geneva Convention;

—       involving the states of central Europe in European Union agreements;

—       drawing up an agreement on the right of asylum, stipulating not only the legal status of asylum-seekers but also the practical procedure and criteria for establishing refugee status; or including the right of asylum in the European Convention on Human Rights;

—       drafting a legal instrument on the protection of "de facto" refugees.

7. Conclusions

56.       Although the main burden of asylum-seekers in Europe falls upon the countries of western Europe, the situation in central and eastern Europe must not be neglected. These countries' relative inexperience in receiving refugees, coupled with their less favourable socio-economic situation, means that asylum-seekers, despite being far fewer in number, do not always receive the treatment to which they are entitled under international rules. And given that some countries of central and eastern Europe can expect to receive increasing numbers of asylum-seekers in the years ahead, advantage ought to be taken of this period of respite to set up appropriate reception systems.

57.       As the flows of migrants and refugees in Europe are interlinked, certain states or groups of states must be prevented from attempting to pass responsibility for receiving asylum-seekers on to other states. Were such a thing to happen, the main losers would be first and foremost the persons seeking protection from the countries of Europe, and, in general terms, we would all lose out, in that the humanitarian principles on which our societies are based would be flouted. It is therefore necessary to find common solutions, worked out and put into practice with the participation of every European state. I hope that the proposals set out in the draft recommendation included in this report will help to achieve this aim.

Reporting committee: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.

Budgetary implications for the Assembly: none.

Reference to committee: Doc. 6646 and Reference No. 1799 of 30 September 1992.

Draft recommendation adopted by the committee on 31 August 1995 with 26 votes in favour, 0 against and 1 abstention.

Members of the committee: Mrs Aguiar (Chairperson), Mr Cucó, Sir John Hunt (Alternate: Atkinson) (Vice-Chairmen), MM. Akselsen, Andres, Árnason, Mrs Arnold, MM. Attard Montalto, Biefnot, Billing, van den Bos (Alternate: Mrs Baarveld-Schlaman), Branger, Mrs Brasseur, MM. Brennan, Brito, Ehrmann, Fuhrmann, Galanos, Ghesquière, Golu, Gotzev, Gross, Iuliano, Iwiński, Junghanns, Kalus, Kapsis (Alternate: Korakas), Kiliç, Kiratlioǧlu (Alternate: Demiralp), Lord Kirkhill (Alternate: Wray), MM. Kukk, Lauricella, Leitner, Liapis, Loutfi, Mrs Luhtanen, MM. Mészáros, Pantelejevs, Pastuszka, Mrs Robert, MM. Saudargas, Školč, Mrs Soutendijk-van Appeldoorn, Mr Tabladini, Mrs Theorin, MM. Tkác, Trojan, Vázquez (Alternate: Ms Guirado).

N.B.       The names of those members present at the meeting are printed in italics.

Secretaries to the committee: MM. Newman and Sich.

1 1

Doc. 6633. Recommendation 1188 (1992) adopted on 30.6.1992.

2 2       See "Proceedings of the Colloquy" (Strasbourg, 1995).

3 3

Doc. 6554 and Recommendation 1176 (1992); Doc. 6740 and Recommendation 1205 (1993); Doc. 6910 and Resolution 1010 (1993); Doc. 6997 and Resolution 1019 (1994); Doc. 7066 and Recommendation 1238 (1994) and Doc. 7342.

4 4       Refugees and displaced persons in former Yugoslav countries (Rapporteur: Mr Iwinski); Reconstruction programme in former Yugoslavia (Rapporteur: Ms Robert) and Situation of Albanian asylum-seekers from Kosovo (Rapporteur: Mr Cucó).

5 1        See also the report on population movements between the states of the former Soviet Union (Doc. 6739, Resolution 996 (1993) and Recommendation 1207 (1993)).

6 1       These figures are based upon the memoranda submitted by the delegation of the countries concerned to the Council of Europe's European Committee on Migration (CDMG).

7 2       idem.

8 3       idem.

9 1       Source: Intergovernmental Consultations on Asylum, Refugee and Migration Policies in Europe, North America and Australia.

10 1       See also the report on the Social Development Fund of the Council of Europe, 1994-1995 (Doc. 7321, Recommendation 1273 (1995)).