FRA-ECtHR updated Handbook on European law relating to asylum, borders and immigration: Helping to implement fundamental rights safeguards

Andreina De Leo, Early Stage Researcher, Maastricht University Faculty of Law; former trainee at the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights
/ 4 mins read

European law relating to asylum, borders and immigration is developing fast. The European Convention on Human Rights and European Union (EU) law both provide an important framework for the protection of the rights of third country nationals living in Europe. To keep abreast with the legal and jurisprudential developments in this field within the EU and the Council of Europe area, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights and the European Court of Human Rights jointly prepared this third edition of their Handbook, which now also includes an expanded section on statelessness.

Handbook on European law relating to asylum, borders and immigration

The 2020 edition of the Handbook on European law relating to asylum, borders and immigration, published jointly by the European Union (EU) Agency for Fundamental Rights and the European Court of Human Rights, provides an overview of applicable legal standards at both the EU and Council of Europe level. The Handbook – which is currently available in five language versions, including English – is intended to assist national authorities when dealing with legal questions on asylum and migration issues in their daily work. It is mainly useful to judges, prosecutors, border guards, immigration officials, as well as to lawyers, national human rights institutions and civil society.


Since the publication of the 2014 edition of the Handbook, there have been significant developments in EU law relating to asylum, borders and immigration. For instance, the adoption of instruments upgrading or establishing new large-scale EU information technology systems to manage migration. There have also been smaller legislative changes – such as in the Schengen acquis on borders, irregular migration, and visas. In parallel, the Court of Justice of the EU has clarified several legal questions emerging from the implementation of EU migration and asylum law in its ever-expanding case law, especially in the field of return of third-country nationals. The European Court of Human Rights has also delivered a number of important judgments, notably in the area of reception conditions of asylum seekers. In light of these changes, the Handbook is updated so that its legal guidance remains up to date and accurate. The updated version contains a new chapter on large-scale EU information technology systems (chapter 2), a new subsection on local border traffic (chapter 1, section 6), and an expanded section on statelessness (chapter 3, section 10). It also includes a short paragraph on the impact of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU (chapter 3, section 3.8).


Chapter 1 of the Handbook examines access to EU territory and the Schengen area. Chapter 2 looks at the EU’s large-scale information technology systems focusing on their fundamental rights safeguards in respect for the right to privacy and private life, the right to asylum and the right to an effective remedy. Chapter 3 provides an overview of the legal status of different categories of third country nationals, such as asylum seekers and international protection beneficiaries, long term residents, migrants in an irregular situation, and stateless persons. Chapters 4 and 5 deal with asylum determination procedures, returns procedures and barriers to removal, including procedural safeguards, such as access to legal assistance. Chapter 6 examines issues related to the right to private and family life, especially in the context of family reunification and regularisation. Chapters 7 and 8 explore the safeguards applied when asylum seekers or migrants in an irregular situation are deprived of liberty or forcibly returned. Chapter 9 deals with access to economic and social rights, such as employment, education, housing, healthcare and social security. Finally, chapter 10 addresses issues affecting vulnerable asylum seekers or migrants such as unaccompanied children, victims of human trafficking, persons with disabilities, victims of torture and victims of gender-based violence.

How to use the Handbook

The Handbook is structured in an intuitive and practical manner to facilitate access to the information it provides even to non-specialised practitioners. It explains the applicable legislation, and includes text boxes with case-law illustrating how the Court of Justice of the EU and the European Court of Human Rights have ruled. ‘Key-points’ boxes at the end of each chapter recap the main takeaways. The Handbook also contains a ‘Further reading’ section with a list of references to more specialised material. The latter has a specific section on statelessness, which also refers to the ENS’ Statelessness Index. Furthermore, the Handbook includes a more practical section explaining how to search for case law from the two courts online, as well as a table listing all relevant EU instruments and selected agreements. The Annexes provide an overview of the applicability of EU regulations and directives (Annex 1), selected Council of Europe instruments – including relevant protocols to the European Convention on Human Rights (Annex 2), European Social Charter (ESC) provisions (Annex 3), and selected UN conventions (Annex 4) to EU and Council of Europe Member States.

The Handbook, is currently available in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish and will be translated in all other EU languages.

A free print copy can be ordered through the EU Publications website.

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