In a move that has sparked concern among human rights advocates, EU ministers on Thursday agreed to significantly tighten asylum procedures.

The decision, made on Thursday evening, introduces the principle of detention near the border for asylum seekers from countries deemed to have a low likelihood of obtaining refugee status.

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If their applications are unsuccessful, these individuals would be deported back to their countries of origin.

This decision, while still pending approval from the EU Parliament, has raised alarm among Luxembourg-based aid organisations, including Passerell and Catch a Smile. These groups fear that the new legislation could lead to a decline in human rights protections for asylum seekers.

Catch a Smile, an organisation primarily active in the Greek islands and the Balkans, expressed scepticism about the potential impact of the accord. Fabienne Dimmer, the organisation's president, argued that such legislation rarely leads to meaningful behavioural changes. Instead, she suggested, it often results in enhanced border protection measures, such as thermal cameras and drones operated by Frontex, the EU border protection agency.

If the new law is implemented, it would undeniably lead to a reduction in international protection standards, according to Marion Dubois, director of the Passerell Association. This would mean that the procedural guarantee of protection for asylum seekers would cease. Passerell is an organisation that advocates for the right to asylum.

At present, a screening procedure is in place at external borders, a so-called pre-application for asylum. During this process, border authorities assess whether a person is eligible to apply for asylum.

However, Dubois warns that this procedure is often opaque, with many arrivals being rejected and returned to their countries of origin, a practice that is prohibited by international law. She fears that such practices could increase dramatically if the new accord is implemented.

Furthermore, the accord does not require all EU member states to take responsibility for border issues. Instead, it refers to the concept of solidarity, which could allow a member state to contribute financially without welcoming refugees on its territory. This aspect of the agreement is a further cause for concern for Dubois.

Dubois thus advocates for a fundamental reform of the Dublin asylum system, which would enable asylum seekers to apply for protection in countries they genuinely wish to relocate to.

Overall, in the NGOs' view, the EU move underscores the urgent need for a more equitable and humane approach to asylum procedures within the bloc.