EU proposes new asylum rules to stop migrants crossing Europe

Last year's record arrivals triggered bitter political disputes in the EU

The European Commission has proposed more unified EU asylum rules in a bid to stop people waiting for refugee status moving around the bloc and disrupting its passport-free zone.

In an unprecedented wave of migration last year, 1.3 million people reached the EU and most ignored legal restrictions, trekking from the Mediterranean coast to apply for asylum in Germany, prompting some EU countries to suspend the Schengen Area system that allows free passage between most EU states.

“The changes will create a genuine common asylum procedure,” said EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.

“At the same time, we set clear obligations and duties for asylum seekers to prevent secondary movements and abuse of procedures.”

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said it had concerns about the new rules and said the new system must not lower standards of protection and asylum.

The proposal would standardise refugee reception facilities across the bloc and unify the level of state support they can get, setting common rules on residence permits, travel papers, access to jobs, schools, social welfare and healthcare.

It would grant prospective refugees quicker rights to work, but also put more obligations on them, meaning that if they do not co-operate with the authorities or head to an EU state of their choice rather than staying put, their asylum application could be jeopardised.

The five-year waiting period after which refugees are eligible for long-term residence would be restarted if they move from their designated country, the commission said.

UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said people should be dissuaded from such movements, not punished.

The plan, which will be reviewed by EU governments and the European Parliament, comes after Brussels proposed in May a system for distributing asylum seekers, an idea opposed by eastern EU states which refuse to accept refugees.

Only 3,056 people have so far been relocated under the scheme that was meant for 160,000 people, the commission said.

Hungary and Slovakia have challenged the system in the courts.

UNHCR wants the EU to drop the first country of arrival principle and distribute asylum seekers among EU member states.

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