4.2. Access to information and legal assistance

This section is divided into two main thematic parts. The first part, Access to information, offers a summary of the legislative developments and policy initiatives in EU+ countries on this field, including separate parts on audio-visual communication initiatives and new media developments, information needs of vulnerable persons, information provision following the recognition of beneficiaries of international protection and awareness-raising activities related to assisted voluntary return and reintegration. It further highlights a number of reported training initiatives on information provision, while also making reference to related concerns raised by civil society organisation and UNHCR. This first part concludes with a brief overview of EASO initiatives in this area. The second thematic part of the section focuses on developments regarding legal assistance and representation. It provides an overview of changes related to the scope and extent of legal aid, and the actors involved in the process, and highlights specific initiatives on the provision of legal assistance to unaccompanied minors. The part also includes civil society perspectives in this area.  

In order to be able to fully communicate their protection needs and personal circumstances and to have them comprehensively and fairly assessed, persons seeking international protection need information regarding their situation. In particular, under the recast Asylum Procedures Directive, Member States need to ensure that all authorities that are likely to receive applications for international protection have the relevant information and can in turn inform applicants as to where and how applications for international protection may be lodged. Additional obligations of provision of information (information on the possibility to apply for international protection for certain persons who have not done so) shall be also applicable in detention facilities and border crossing points. During the procedures, applicants are to be informed of their rights and obligations during the procedure and the possible consequences of not complying with their obligations and not cooperating with the authorities, the time frames of the procedure, and circumstances concerning withdrawal of their application. For persons with pending cases it is crucial to receive information about their situation, as lack of clarity in that regard can be a contributing factor leading to absconding and secondary movement.

4.2.1. Access to information

For applicants for international protection, effective access to information is a primary constituent of procedural fairness.  Applicants have the right to be informed so that: a) they understand the different stages of the process; b) they know their rights and obligations in each of these stages; and c) they are aware of the means available to them to exercise their rights and fulfil their duties. Accordingly, having effective access to information enables them to make informed decisions throughout the process, being aware of what consequences each decision they make entails. 

In 2018, EU+ countries continued reinforcing their efforts for accurate and comprehensive information to persons seeking international protection. Furthermore, the content of information provided by EU+ authorities, broadened into rights and obligations in the content of protection was well as integration, including organisation of induction training sessions for applicants or beneficiaries of asylum and subsidiary status, in the host countries. Read more... 


4.2.2. Legal assistance and representation
 
Legal assistance and representation is a necessary condition for applicants’ effective participation in the asylum process. Currently, EU legislation requires Member States to provide for making such assistance available on request during appeal procedures. Provision of legal assistance in first instance is typically contingent upon availability of resources and is left at the discretion of Member States. Civil society actors have a key role in providing legal assistance, oftentimes making use of available EU funding, such as the Asylum Migration and Integration Fund. In 2018, changes introduced by EU+ countries in the area of legal assistance and representation concern the extension of assistance to different stages of the asylum process and, at times, changes to the actors involved in the provision of legal services. It is worth noting here that, in conjunction with initiatives carried out by authorities, civil society actors, especially organisations with operational experience, also played a role in identifying existing challenges and limitations and creating pressure from the bottom up toward addressing those challenges.  Read more...