In April 2019, the UNHCR published its comments on the European Commission (EC) proposal for an Asylum Procedures Regulation. The agency welcomes the EC’s overall goal of harmonising protection standards and procedures and recognises the change from a Directive to a Regulation as an effective way to achieve such harmonization. Nonetheless, the UNHCR stresses that harmonization should not lead to a lowering of rights and standards.

The UNHCR commends the proposal’s emphasis on the applicant’s rights to information and legal assistance and representation, and the improved safeguards for persons with specific procedural needs, including unaccompanied children. However, the agency cautions against the use of punitive measures for non-compliance, such as measures that would result in the implicit withdrawal of applications.

In addition, the UNHCR recognizes the EC’s goal of increased efficiency and fairness in asylum procedures, including the use of accelerated procedures. Nonetheless, the UNHCR expressed concern with the mandatory admissibility procedures, including those based on safe country concepts, and accelerated examination procedures without sufficient procedural safeguards. The agency stresses that the proposal to remove automatic suspensive effect of appeals is contrary to the principle of non-refoulement. The agency proposes that automatic suspensive effect be required for all safe country concepts.

The comments recognise the importance of creating a more efficient and fair system, but emphasize that this system “must not be operationalised in a way that endangers the rights to a fair procedure and to an effective remedy, or increases the risk of refoulement.”

Notably, the comments also sets out UNHCR’s position on age assessments, stating that the Regulation should include a right to an effective remedy to contest age assessment decisions.