EU asylum law determines that people who flee from persecution in their home country should be granted refugee status or subsidiary protection. If a person’s case does not meet all criteria for this type of protection, Member States can step in and offer national protection.
The new European Migration Network (EMN) study provides an overview of national protection statuses since 2010 in the EU Member States and Norway, examining the protection grounds, procedures, key rights and content of protection of each type of status.
In addition to the two protection statuses harmonised at European level (refugee status and subsidiary protection), the new EMN study identified a total of 60 national protection statuses. Of the 25 States participating in this study, 22 have at least one national protection status. Since the publication of the first EMN study on non-harmonised protection statuses in 2010, the number of Member States granting national protection statuses has not changed. However, several amendments to these statuses were adopted in 2014-2018, , years when most Member States registered very high numbers of asylum applications during the migration crisis, most often introducing more restrictive eligibility criteria or otherwise making it less easy to be granted a national status.
National protection statuses cater for a wide variety of protection needs and situations, thereby exceeding the grounds for international protection under EU asylum law. The study found that the majority of national protection statuses were based on general humanitarian reasons. This type of status was available in 15 Member States and Norway. Eurostat figures on authorisations to stay for humanitarian reasons suggest a five-fold increase in the number of national protection statuses granted between 2010 and 2018, following a similar trend to positive decisions on refugee and subsidiary protection statuses.
Other commonly found national protection statuses are used to cover “exceptional circumstances”, medical reasons as well as the principle of non-refoulement that prohibits states from returning individuals to a country where there is a real risk they will be in danger or persecution. Italy and Sweden also have in place a specific protection status for reasons of calamity or natural disaster. In general terms, with the exception of protection statuses for children, it is rare that national protection statuses offer more favourable standards than EU law.
A common challenge reported was the interpretation of the eligibility criteria due to the wide definition of the protection grounds and, accordingly, the discretion left to authorities. For instance, in half of the national statuses examined, asylum authorities were not involved, with other migration authorities or political bodies deciding who might access these statuses. The study also found that, on the one hand, while policy makers in some Member States argued for the abolition of all national protection statuses, claiming that international protection under EU law covered all relevant protection grounds, civil society organisations on the other hand stressed the need to expand the scope of the protection grounds of national statuses.