Social Security for Refugees: A Legal Comparison | Max-Planck-Institut für Sozialrecht und Sozialpolitik - MPISOC
Research Projects
Europeanisation of the Welfare State

Social Security for Refugees: A Legal Comparison


Project description

When it comes to the protection of refugees, for many countries offering the minimum standards demanded by the European Union (EU) is the best they can do. This is the result of a study conducted by researchers at the Institute’s Department of Social Law. Published in response to the EU’s revised directive for the admittance of refugees, it focusses on legal regulations in 14 different countries. The EU's directive, which attempts to determine the norms for regulating the admittance of asylum seekers, points out that member states are obligated to guarantee the basic right of human dignity. Standards for admitting asylum seekers, which meet this requirement, are only just emerging.

Currently the joint European asylum legislation is laid out badly and organized only fragmentarily. It consists of a legislative framework, that theoretically applies to all EU countries, but is practically realized differently within the individual states. In fact, there remains little to no sign of the solidarity between member states, as it is explicitly mentioned in article 80 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). A European asylum policy, which regulates the responsibilities for the protection of refugees in a binding and solidary way, is therefore urgently needed.

The study was published in the journal "Zeitschrift für ausländisches und internationales Arbeits- und Sozialrecht" (ZIAS, Volumes 1/2015 and 2/2015). The southern EU Member States included in the comparison were Spain, Italy and Greece. The scientists also selected Bulgaria and Hungary in Eastern Europe as important border and transit countries and also surveyed Germany’s neighbouring states, the Netherlands, Austria and Poland. Great Britain was examined as the country with the lowest refugee acceptance rate based on population size and Sweden as that with the highest rate. Finally, Turkey, Russia and the USA were also incorporated due to their special problem situations.

Photo: Dieter Schütz/

Key results

  • Except for Turkey and the USA, all countries investigated are obligated to provide appropriate accommodation for refugees. However, most countries are even unable to make a sufficient number of accommodations available.
  • In some countries benefits for refugees do not comply with their own universal level of aid. In Great Britain, for example, asylum seekers can only claim benefits which amount to half of the normal income support.
  • Access to medical support is distributed very heterogeneously: Great Britain and Poland fully include asylum seekers into their general healthcare-systems, whereas Sweden and Germany only provide acute care.
  • Sweden is the only of the investigated countries which allows refugees to pursue regular employment as soon as they have applied for asylum, even without a work permit.