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Council plans to export refugees with negative asylum decisions to "Return Centres" outside EU
14.7.18
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The Austrian Council Presidency has circulated the following to Member States' delegations: Presidency discussion paper on Return Centers (LIMITE doc no: 10829-18, pdf, 4 July 2018) with the objective to "significantly step up the effective return of migrants irregularly staying in the EU":

"An enforceable return decision, for example following a final negative asylum decision or expiry of a residence title, constitutes an obligation to leave EU territory. However the eminent gap between orders to leave the EU and effectively implemented returns clearly indicates the need to reinforce the current system.

Therefore new approaches and innovative ideas are needed, in order to strengthen the rule of law, the credibility of our migration and asylum policies and to regain trust in governmental institutions. It is important to ensure the return of irregular migrants.

One additional element for a possible way forward could be the establishment of Return Centers in third countries. These centers should be explored for third-country nationals (TCNs) who are subject to a final and enforceable return decision and who cannot be returned to their country of origin due to the lack of cooperation of this country or the TCN concerned."
[emphasis in original]

Using the infamous Return Directive? [1]

The Presidency proposes:

"The current Return Directive foresees the possibility of return to a third country different from the country of origin. According to Article 2 (2 b) of the Return Directive member states can decide not to apply Return Directive to TCN, who are subject to return as a criminal law sanction or as a consequence of a criminal law sanction. According to Article 3 (3) of the Return Directive, also includes the removal to a transit country on the basis of a respective readmission agreement."

The Returns Directive (2008) allows, under Article 15.6, detention for six months and a limited period not exceeding a further twelve months in accordance with national law, in cases where regardless of all reasonable efforts the removal operation is likely to last longer (Article 15.6).

And as stated above where return is part of a "criminal sanction" (Article 2.2) Member States can choose not to apply the Directive, while under Article 3.3 removal to a transit country a person whose stay is deemed "illegal" is possible where a readmission agreement is in place.

Return Centres

"The basic concept of such Return Centers would include the following:

- Return Centers should be established within, as well as operated by, a third country, meet European standards and be compliant with applicable international and European human rights law. The principle of Non-Refoulement has to be safeguarded in all cases.

- Target group would be TCNs with an enforceable return decision, for example following a final negative asylum decision or expiry of a residence title.

- To avoid misuse of Return Centers, (subsequent) applications for international protection lodged at the Return Center should be handled by the host state.

- Within the Return Centers, return counseling and information on reintegration projects should be available.

It is crucial for the integrity of the European asylum and migration system to deliver the clear message that persons being denied international protection will not be able to stay on the territory of the EU. The local authorities of a chosen third country operating a Return Center would be supported through the exchange of know-how and technical equipment; in addition further cooperation on migration management should be offered, e.g. deployment of border guards. Possible incentives for third countries to agree on establishing and operating a Return Center on their territory should be considered. (...)

Member States are also invited to express their interest in participating in the implementation of a pilot project." [emphasis added]

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch Director comments:

"The idea of external "Return Centres" in Africa or elsewhere is objectionable in itself. 'Out of sight out of mind' would be the result.

And the notion that the EU would enforce 'European standards and be compliant with applicable international and European human rights law and the principle of Non-Refoulement' is highly questionable."

[1] 42 days? Try 18 months by Evo Morales: This European targeting of illegal immigrants is hypocritical, draconian and undiplomatic (Guardian, link) see: Appeal to the Members of the European Parliament (June 2008), pdf)

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