Refugees in the EU

Refugees Rights in the European Union

Do we know who the refugees are? For some, it will be an obvious answer, but for many others a difficult one.

The definition of refugees does not even appear in the Treaty on European Union (ETE) or in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), is the Genova Convention the one which defines the refugee as:

“any person who […] owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. In the case of a person who has more than one nationality, the term ‘the country of his nationality shall mean each of the countries of which he is a national, and a person shall not be deemed to be lacking the protection of the country of his nationality if, without any valid reason based on well-founded fear, he has not availed himself of the protection of one of the countries of which he is a national.”

Almost all people have a wrong idea about refugees, for them, “they are just people who are searching for the best and fancy life in Europe, and they decided voluntarily to abandon their county”.

The reality is entirely different. Refugees are forced to leave their country, leaving everything behind, their family, work, studies, heritage, and so many other things. They even put their lives at risk to enter another country where they can be safe.

Still, they sufferers a lot of Human Rights violations in Europe, from discrimination to the complex process to prove the risk of persecution they go through. Sometimes those prove to make them open and recreate again bad memories and traumas, being re-victimised. It is not easy to establish some persecutions and the host country do not cooperate, so they run the risk of having their asylum application rejected, a violation of Article 4 (1) of Directive 2004/83/EC of 29 April on minimum standards for the qualification and status of third-country Nationals or stateless as Refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection and the content of the protection granted:

“although it is generally for the applicant to submit all elements needed to substantiate the application, the fact remains that the Member State must cooperate with the applicant at the stage of determining the relevant elements of that application.” But sadly, a Directive that is not in force, so we can see how refugee rights are declining. 

They run away from Human Rights violations in their country to be sometimes treated the same way or even worst in Europe, where they are illegally pushed back at European Union borders, placed in overcrowded camps in appalling conditions, treated without dignity, being the object of abuse, injury, hunger, cold, fear and insecurity.

The number of refugees in Europe has increased a lot in the last years due to conflicts and violence. The thing that makes the European Union realise that it was not prepared to deal with this issue and face it needs a standard European Asylum System.

The Council Decision (EU) 2015/1817 of 6 October 2015 on the position to be adopted on behalf of the European Union in the 66th session of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, established that.

“The Union is a key actor in the areas of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (‘UNHCR’) mandate, both through its activities in international protection, including the Union resettlement policy and the establishment of the Common European Asylum System and as a major donor of humanitarian aid and development assistance. However, the arrangements currently in place concerning the Union’s participation in the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme (‘Executive Committee of the UNHCR’) do not correspond to the Union’s significant role in those areas”.

The Directive 2011/95/EU of 13 December 2011 on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees or persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and the content of the protection granted, defines as well, refugees as, “a third-country national who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group, is outside the country of nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country, or a stateless person, who, being outside of the country of former habitual residence for the same reasons as mentioned above, is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to return to it”. 

Article 22 of this Directive imposes the Member States’ obligation to provide refugees with access to information, in a language that they understand or are reasonably supposed to understand, on the rights and obligations relating to that status. Unfortunately, we still see a lot of different behaviours where the Member States do not provide information and sometimes they do not use an understandable language to communicate with them. In a recent case in Spain, a refugee girl, a victim of sexual abuse, from Cameroon, 16 years old, was subjected to an age determination test with a full nakedness without being informed or attended in her language, a violation that the UN condemned.

Another right for Refugees is family unity, where the Members States should maintain family unity even if they are not individually qualified for such protection. A right that we do not see so frequently.

This Directive also forces the Member States to provide the beneficiaries of refugee status a residence permit which must be valid for at least three years, and the same right should be guaranteed to the family members of the beneficiaries of Refugees. Still, in this case, the residence permit must be valid for at least one year. Something that we can see like contradictions. 

Article 25 lay down that the Member States should assure Refugees the travel documents for travel outside their territory unless compelling reasons of national security or public order otherwise require.

The host country shall authorise beneficiaries of international protection to engage in employed or self-employed activities subject to rules generally applicable to the profession and the public service immediately after the protection has been granted, under equivalent conditions as nationals. 

In reality, we see the discrimination and how Refugees ends with no opportunities to work, exposed to the risk of exploitation or human trafficking. 

They also have the right to education. The Member States should grant full access to the education system to all minors granted international protection under the same conditions as Nationals. They also shall allow adults granted international protection access to the general education system, further training, or retraining under the same conditions as third-country nationals legally resident. 

On the contrary, there is a lack of access to information, education, and job opportunities. They suffer from substandard living conditions.

The Member States shall also ensure that beneficiaries of international protection receive, in the Member State that has granted such protection, the necessary social assistance as provided to nationals of that Member State.

They also should ensure that beneficiaries of international protection have access to healthcare, including treatment of mental disorders when needed, to beneficiaries of international protection who have special needs, such as pregnant women, disabled people, persons who have undergone torture, rape or other severe forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence or minors who have been victims of any form of abuse, neglect, exploitation, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or who have suffered from armed conflict, under the same eligibility conditions as nationals of the Member State that has granted such protection.

This right is not being respected due to the Covid-19, which further exacerbated refugees’ vulnerability. They do not have the health care they should, and the most crucial question will be, Will the European Countries take charge of vaccinating the refugees against the Covid-19? 

In conclusion, the rights of refugees recognised in the law of the European Union are not observed in practice by the Member States. We see daily an important number of cases where refugees’ rights are being violated, and a lot of atrocities at Europe’s borders, which make us doubt the veracity of the values that “supposedly” represent the European Union.

There is no adequate response to prevent those infringements or sanction to the Member States from the European Union. We need a common and effective European Asylum System.

For refugees, who escape from a harsh reality, entering another country to be safe, with the right to a dignified life, is a matter of life or death, their only concern is to be able to enjoy their basic rights as humans, while the Member States, their only concern is to reduce the number of refugees.

Everyone, regardless of immigration status, origin, nationality, or religion, has the right to be treated with respect and dignity. Refugees’ rights are Human Rights.


Article 23 Directive 2011/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2001 on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for uniforms status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted.

Article 24 Directive 2011/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2001 on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for uniforms status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted.

Article 26 Directive 2011/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2001 on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for uniforms status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted.

Article 27 Directive 2011/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2001 on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for uniforms status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted.

Article 29 Directive 2011/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2001 on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for uniforms status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted.

Article 30 Directive 2011/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2001 on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for uniforms status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted.