Coronavirus: Commission presents guidance on implementing EU rules on asylum and return procedures and on resettlement
Today, the Commission adopted guidance on the implementation of relevant EU rules on asylum and return procedures and on resettlement in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, which it will present to Member States. This responds to Member States' request for advice on ways to ensure the continuity of procedures and the respect of, at a minimum, basic rights. The guidance was prepared with the support of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), and in cooperation with national authorities.
Health measures taken to limit social interaction among asylum personnel and applicants have an impact on asylum processes. The flexibility provided for in EU rules should be used:
The outbreak of the coronavirus has led to a severe disruption of resettlement operations. Member States as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have temporarily suspended resettlement operations. Preparatory activities should continue to the extent possible so that resettlement operations can resume smoothly. The Commission will continue to support Member States to fulfil their 2020 pledges and will grant flexibility in relation to the implementation period.
Measures taken worldwide to contain the pandemic are having a significant effect on return. Despite the temporary disruption caused by the coronavirus, work on return procedures to third countries should continue, particularly on activities that can be carried out despite restrictive measures, to be ready for when return operations can be resumed. More than ever, voluntary returns should be prioritised, also because they present a lower health and safety risk. Frontex stands ready to assist Member States in organising air operations. Close cooperation and contacts with third countries on the identification, documentation and return of their nationals should also be maintained. As regards pre-removal detention, the temporary restrictions during the pandemic should not be interpreted as automatically leading to the conclusion that a reasonable prospect of removal no longer exists in all cases. The Commission invites Member States to examine each case individually to determine whether a reasonable prospect of removal still exists when deciding on appropriate action to take.
The Commission invited Heads of State or Government on 16 March 2020 to introduce a temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU for an initial period of 30 days, prolonged until 15 May. Leaders endorsed this call on 17 March; and all EU Member States (except Ireland) and non-EU Schengen countries have since then taken national decisions to implement this travel restriction. The exemptions to the travel restriction extend to persons in need of international protection or for other humanitarian reasons respecting the principle of non-refoulement.
This guidance will be complemented by dedicated thematic meetings organised by EU agencies to assist Member States with practical advice and facilitate the sharing of best practices.