UK suspends return of asylum seekers to Greece
The UK Border Agency decided on 20 September to suspend the return of asylum seekers to Greece pending the result of a case that has been referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) from the UK Court of Appeal. The case, NS vs. SSHD and others (formerly known as the Saeedi case), challenges the decision of the UK to remove the applicants to Greece under the Dublin system. The UK has decided to suspend returns to Greece and process itself the 1300 asylum applications for which Greece could be responsible rather than waiting (potentially 2 years) until that case is resolved by the CJEU.
In legal terms, the UK has invoked the ‘sovereignty clause’, Article 3(2) of the Dublin II Regulation, which states that Member States may decide to take responsibility for an application and examine it in substance in spite of the fact that the Dublin criteria would assign responsibility to another state. The UK has stressed that the decision is based on “pragmatic” reasons linked to the administrative costs of the 1300 pending cases with no relation to the reported failures of the Greek asylum system.
Following a government reshuffle in Greece, the projected reform to address the backlog of around 45,000 cases has been delayed. More substantive reforms to re-haul the dysfunctional Greek asylum system were expected in late 2011. However, according to Human Rights Watch these are now likely to be delayed also.
The UNHCR has stressed that the situation of the asylum system in Greece amounts to a humanitarian crisis and has urged the EU “step up its assistance” in order to help Greece meet its European and international obligations. Besides, Human Rights Watch (HRW) refugee programme director declared that it is time for the UN refugee agency to “take over processing applications” where the Greek government is failing