Incredible but true: despite all the wonderful declarations and charters of rights declared by Brussels, it now seems that asylum seekers and illegal immigrants are entitled to more rights than citizens in the EU.
A recent ruling of the European Court of Human Rights says that asylum seekers may not be transferred to another Member State where they could be “in danger of being subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment”.
The ruling applied in the case of six refugees, who after passing through Greece filed a request for asylum in the United Kingdom and Ireland. In compliance with the EU law known as the Dublin regulation, asylum applications should be examined by the European country where the refugees first arrived in the EU. So the six refugees were transferred back to Greece, but because of the terrible conditions under which they were held, they have been allowed to leave the Country.
So the UK has had to suspend forced deportations of asylum seekers to Greece. But the UK itself is forced to hand over dozens of British citizens to Greek jails every year, regardless of conditions, under the terms of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW). The case of Andrew Symeou, a British student sent to Greece under the EAW, has attracted a great deal of publicity. He was eventually acquitted and released, but not before he has suffered many months of incarceration in very poor conditions.
I wrote extensively about the case of two of my East Midlands constituents who suffered similar problems under the EAW when they were transferred to a Soviet-era jail in Riga, Latvia.
Personally, I am opposed to the EAW in its entirety. But if we must have it, we need at least three robust safeguards in place. First, there should be a prima facie case against the accused, which should be tested in British courts. Secondly, the offence should be sufficiently serious to justify extradition. No one should be sent to a foreign jail for dropping litter, or for smoking in the wrong place. And third, there should be clear assurances that standards both of due process and of incarceration in the destination country should be broadly comparable to those in the UK (or better).
This case highlights the third point: if conditions in Greece are not good enough for asylum seekers, and breach their human rights, then they are certainly not good enough for British citizens.
The Court has justified its decision by asserting that “Greek authorities are not able to manage the flow of refugees”. That doesn’t seem to me a good reason for adding them to the backlog of our own asylum seeker cases that we are struggling to process. And I am concerned about more than 960 similar complaints currently pending before the Strasbourg Court, which will no doubt refer to this precedent.
This case dramatises the need to do two things. First, we must clip the wings of the ECHR (as the government is seeking to do). Secondly, we need a radical review of the EAW. If we can’t introduce robust safeguards, we should opt out of it completely.