19/06/2013 13:25 BST | Updated 19/08/2013 06:12 BST

World Refugees Day: Giving a Better Reception to Those Fleeing Their Homes


It's not the abandoned vehicles along the roads or the bombed-out houses that provide the starkest reminder of just how far the conflict in Syria has escalated, but the groups of refugees that continue to pour across the borders. It's the fate of people like these hundreds of thousands of Syrians that World Refugee Day on 20 June calls attention to.

Syrians made up the second largest group of refugees coming to Europe last year, after Afghans. Seventy per cent of the 330,000 who were registered were received by just five countries: Germany (77,500), France (60,600) Sweden (43,900) and the UK (28,200), closely followed by Belgium with 28,100. However, how European countries take in refugees is about to change drastically.

The European Parliament voted 12 June in favour of a new asylum system in the EU. This includes common procedures and deadlines for handling asylum applications and basic rights for asylum seekers arriving in Europe.

Under the new rules asylum seekers will have a medical and psychological assessment as soon as possible, will be provided with decent detention and living conditions and have the right to apply for work nine months after lodging an asylum application.

There will also be help for EU countries struggling to cope with an influx of asylum seekers. Refugees can no longer be transferred to member states that are unable to guarantee the required standard of housing for them. In addition there will be an early warning mechanism to flag up potential problems in national asylum systems before they develop into a full-blown crisis.

The new legislation will also have consequences for the fight against terrorism and serious crime. Europol and national police forces will gain access to the Eurodac database, which contains the fingerprints of all asylum seekers. However, at the request of MEPs, this is subject to strict conditions to ensure the data is used only in a legitimate and proportional manner.

The new rules, which have the backing of member states, will enter into force in the second half of 2015. Europe can't prevent the conditions that force people to flee their homes, as in Syria, but it can ensure they are treated humanely when they reach our shores.

Infographic copyright European Parliament