The European Union's parliament on Tuesday called for stricter human rights safeguards to be included in proposals for EU-wide standards in granting political asylum.
In a narrow, 305-302 vote, the EU assembly passed a proposal from the European Commission to set up guidelines for EU governments in handling asylum seekers. Thirty-three lawmakers abstained. While the vote was nonbinding, it put pressure on EU governments and the Commission to heed calls not to water down human rights safeguards in the legislation, which includes more than 100 amendments.
The assembly, meeting in Strasbourg, France, called on the EU to keep its common procedures for considering asylum cases "in line with international standards, in particular the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees."
The EU is aiming to set up a joint asylum policy by 2010.
The new proposals aim to stop so-called asylum shopping, where refugee applicants try to attain the best social benefits by applying in more than one EU country.
The parliament said each asylum applicant had a right to a hearing, rejecting arguments from some EU governments that they should be able to return applicants whose home countries are on a list of nations deemed to be safe.
The EU lawmakers also said applicants had a right to appeal if refused refugee status and not face deportation until the appeals process is finished.
The EU assembly also slammed proposals to set up more detention centers for immigrants and asylum seekers either in the EU or outside its territory. Italy and Germany have been pushing for the EU to consider funding joint asylum centers in North Africa as a way to stop the illegal flow of immigrants into Europe.
Many EU nations have adopted tighter asylum rules in recent years, often reacting to growing support for far-right, anti-immigration parties. The number of asylum applications in the EU fell from 425,000 in 2002 to 282,000 last year, according to U.N. data.
The EU is aiming to set up a joint asylum policy by 2010, the AP reports. AM