Annual list of « safe » countries: a threat to refugees’ rights

Belgium, Migration and Asylum, Statement

Read in:  French 

Brussels, 3 août 2017 – EuroMed Rights, the Belgian Human Rights League, the ADDE, the CIRÉ, the CNCD 11.11.11, Amnesty International Belgium and the European Association for the defence of human rights (AEDH) hereby condemn the updating of the list of countries of origin deemed “safe” by the Belgian government.

We oppose the very notion of safety being used as a means to examine asylum claims for it substantially weakens procedural safeguards which may have serious consequences on the fundamental rights of asylum seekers.

Such measures result in the introduction of specific procedures and, eventually, in asylum claims being assessed differently. This may potentially impact the rights of asylum seekers who may be discriminated against because of their nationality, which cannot be tolerated.

In particular, we firmly denounce:

  • Bias if not mistrust against asylum claims.
    The examination of an asylum claim does not consist in establishing whether a country is “safe” but rather in assessing whether the person is at risk of persecution in this country. To deem a country “safe” on the sole basis of political or societal criteria is oblivious to the fundamental issue of personal and individual grounds of actual or potential persecution which can be invoked by the person as a victim or by anticipation. Such a procedure is based on a pre-determined bias against the asylum claim which contradicts the spirit of refugee law.
  • Weaker procedural safeguards.
    Asylum seekers fear for their safety, if not for their life. They were forced in exile, facing challenging if not traumatising circumstances. The asylum procedure duly takes into account this particular context, providing with conditions and timeline/deadline requirements enabling to elaborate on the grounds for his/her fear of persecutions accordingly. People coming from so-called “safe” countries will not be treated the same way: they have to demonstrate, through an accelerated procedure, that their country is not “safe” for them. Such conditions do not allow the asylum seekers, the lawyers or the judges to examine the claims equally to the other asylum requests.
  • Denial of the persistent human rights violations in the enlisted countries.
    No country can be deemed “safe” for everyone, everywhere and at all times. This is especially the case in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, as documented in many NGO reports (criminalisation of homosexuality, instances of torture, harassment against human rights defenders, or restrictions to the freedom of association and assembly, gender based violence). As a matter of fact, the Belgian General Commissariat for Refugees and Stateless (CGRA) already expressed its opposition to the listing of these pays as “safe” countries of origin.

Our organisations recall that the right of asylum should be safeguarded and guaranteed for all in full respect of the 1951 Geneva Convention. We therefore consider that the very existence of a list of so-called “safe” countries of origin is a major threat to human rights.

In the context of increased polarisation and tensions on migration issues at policy level, we express our opposition to the “safe” country of origin concept, to the establishment of a list on this very basis, and to the enlisting of Maghreb countries.