Statewatch article: RefNo# 1074
EU: Western Europe's cordon sanitaire (feature)
Statewatch bulletin, vol 3 no 6
The countries of the EU have succeeded in recruiting the states bordering on them to the south and east as willing partners in the project of keeping refugees out of western Europe. By means of mutual readmission agreements and with western European technical and financial assistance, the numbers of refugees entering the EU states are declining dramatically, and the refugee "problem" is being passed to the states on Europe's periphery - when they are not being re-exported out of Europe altogether.

Since the amendment of the constitutional right to asylum and the introduction of the new asylum law in Germany on 1 July 1993, asylum applications have dropped by half. This is because the new law enables the authorities to refuse asylum-seekers without considering, or registering, their asylum claim, and return them to a "safe" country of origin or transit. In Europe, as well as all the EU and EFTA states, Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania are deemed safe. In addition, under a bilateral agreement with Poland, all asylum-seekers who arrive at the German border with Poland are returned to Poland. No-one coming from or through any of these countries is allowed to apply for asylum unless he or she can rebut the presumption that the country is "safe". In the first four days after the new law came into force almost 500 people were turned away at the Polish and Czech borders.

The constitutional amendment which enables Germany to reject asylum-seekers at the borders, and which France is now processing since the decision of its Constitutional court in September 1993 that such an amendment was necessary to enable France to follow the "safe third country" practice, had been on the agenda since the signing of the Schengen supplementary agreement and the Dublin convention in 1990. These agreements stipulated that asylum-seekers should not be allowed to make consecutive claims in Europe. However, they envisaged that one western European state would take responsibility for the claim; under normal circumstances that state would be the Schengen country, or the EU country, where the asylum-seeker first arrived. That assumption of responsibility within western Europe has now been discarded. A "parallel" Dublin convention is being prepared for signature, with the aim of extending the "country of first asylum" principle to EFTA and central and eastern European states - not all of which are signatories to the UN Convention on Refugees.

But the countries of western Europe are not even waiting for that agreement to be signed; in the meantime they have signed their own bilateral and multilateral agreements relieving them of the "burden" of refugee processing. Thus, the Schengen states signed an agreement with Poland in 1991 which obliged Poland to take back refugees transiting through its territory who arrived in a Schengen country. Austria has signed mutual readmission agreements with Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and the Czech republic, and has since 1990 deployed 2,000 military personnel on its borders. 77,000 people were turned away at Austria's borders in the first half of 1993. Belgium has signed agreements with Poland and Slovenia, and in June 1993 was negotiating with Romania, the Czech republic and Slovakia. Denmark has agreements with Latvia and Lithuania, and is negotiating with Estonia. France has agreements with Poland and Slovenia. Italy provides financial and technical aid to Albania by an agreement hastily entered in the wake of the summary removal of thousands of Albanians in 1991, and has signed an agreement with Poland and is negotiating with Slovenia, while the Netherlands and Luxembourg were negotiating in June 1993 with the latter two countries. Norway has an agreement with Lithuania, Sweden is negotiating with Poland and Romania, while Switzerland is negotiating with Romania. On Europe's southern borders, Spain has agreements with Poland and with Morocco; under the latter, 2,000 Moroccan troops<

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