Slovenia moves to toughen asylum rules

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Such a system would be put in place in case of a surge that would be seen as a threat to public order or national security. It would be put in place for a six-month period by a special parliamentary vote requiring a two-thirds majority but could be rolled back by a majority of all MPs.

The measure would not apply if the migrant's life was in danger nor when at serious risk of being subject to torture, inhumane, humiliating treatment or punishment in the country sent back to, or due to health reasons. It would not apply to unaccompanied minors either.

The controversial amendments are being sent to parliament for passage after being in limbo for months over concerns by many in the coalition that they might contravene constitutional provisions on human rights.

Interior Minister Vesna Györköš Žnidar, who has been the staunchest defender of the legislation, said today that the measures were "necessary and proportionate" and based on the fact that Slovenia is surrounded by safe countries.

She emphasised the law contained "every possible safeguard" and had been cleared by the government's legal service as well as the Justice Ministry. It would only be invoked in the event of extraordinary circumstances, whose occurrence will be declared by the Interior Ministry.

In making the assessment, the ministry will take into account the number of asylum applicants, the number of refugees granted international protection, and accommodation capacity, criteria that the minister said were precisely defined.

The bill has been met with protests by NGOs including the Slovenian chapters of Amnesty International, Red Cross and UNICEF who claim the new system would deny refugees and asylum seekers the right to protection afforded by international and EU law.

They said that the amendment would enable authorities to automatically deny entry to migrants arriving at the border, or to send them back to the country they crossed into Slovenia from.

The organisations argue that the measures do not entail adequate procedures for the protection of refugees' and migrants' rights and would also apply to those expressing intention to seek asylum.

The amendments could potentially violate the right to efficient and fair asylum procedure, the ban on collective deportations and forced return, and the right to effective legal remedy.

Constitutional law scholar Saša Zagorc described the amendments as unconstitutional, in violation of EU laws and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, and contrary to Slovenia's international commitments.

"Mass migrations are a burning issue, but nowhere else has it been tackled with de facto collective denial of the right to international protection," Zagorc, the chair of the constitutional law department at the Ljubljana Faculty of Law, told the STA.

The Human Rights Ombudsman indicated it might take legal action if the amendments are deemed questionable. It said bodies of the state may not violate human rights in the course of their work. In the event violations occur, the office will "act in line with its powers".

Despite the protests and possible legal challenges, the legislation is likely to pass, having been endorsed by all three coalition partners despite some reservations voiced over recent weeks.

Even the Democrats (SDS), the biggest opposition party, said they would back the bill, arguing that such solutions should have been put in place much sooner. New Slovenia (NSi) also supports the legislation in principle.

Dissenting voices have come from the United Left (ZL) and the Alliance, which have argued that the measures are too radical.