European Union


EU divided over list of "safe countries of origin"

List should be scrapped, say rights activists

"Secret documents reveal a shallow process without any sense of morality or humanity"

25 November 2004

An analysis by UK-based civil rights group Statewatch, based on leaked secret documents, shows that EU member states are divided over the proposed list of ten "safe countries of origin" (seven in Africa, three in Latin America). The intention is to declare any and all asylum applications from these countries as "unfounded" and therefore inadmissible. The European Commission is opposed to the inclusion of all seven African countries, Sweden and Finland to including four African countries, Germany and Estonia three African countries. A meeting of the EU's Asylum Working Party on 17 September, however, received a report from the Dutch EU Presidency which concludes that the seven African countries (Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mali, Mauritius and Senegal) are all "safe countries of origin".

The list is part of a proposed directive on asylum procedures. The first draft of this measure was rejected by the European Parliament, and substantial changes have been made, even though the parliament’s powers in this area are very limited. The list must also be agreed unanimously by the Council, which directly represents the 25 member states, each of which has been asked to give its opinion on "safe countries", a definition arrived at on the basis of a set of standards covering democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Many recorded the view that there were fundamental abuses in the countries but still recommended their inclusion on the list. A number of member states complained that they had too little time and information to make a credible assessment. The informal and therefore unaccountable "G5" grouping of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK has agreed the need for a common list and these countries are likely to try and put pressure on the smaller member states to agree the measure unanimously.

Speaking for Statewatch Tony Bunyan said "The ‘safe country of origin’ principle is in contradiction to the human rights obligations of EU member states. On the one hand the member states have highlighted a catalogue of human rights concerns in countries on the proposed list. On the other they are declaring these countries safe because their legal systems theoretically prevent those abuses. By the EU's own criteria the seven African states on the proposed EU list cannot be seen as "safe" and this will be used as a basis for declaring asylum applications ‘unfounded’ or inadmissible. It is this policy which is ‘manifestly unfounded’ not requests for asylum from the citizens of those countries. Our analysis provides an insight into how EU decisions are made, with too little time, too little information, and no public debate and the appalling results of such a decision-making process. To determine the fate of people fleeing from poverty and persecution on the basis of such a shallow process is an insult to any sense of humanity or moral responsibility, let alone legal obligations - the list should be scrapped."