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Minimum standards on the reception of applicants for asylum in Member States

This Directive sets out minimum standards of reception conditions for asylum applicants. The aim is to ensure that the applicants have a dignified standard of living and that comparable living conditions are afforded to them in all Member States. At the same time, the Directive also limits asylum applicants’ secondary movements.


Council Directive 2003/9/EC of 27 January 2003 laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers.


The Directive defines certain key terms, such as: Geneva Convention, applicant for asylum, family members, unaccompanied minor, reception conditions and detention. The Directive will, in principle, apply only to applicants for asylum. However, the competent authorities will presume that all applications for international protection are applications for asylum, unless the applicant explicitly requests another form of protection. This Directive does not relate to family reunification. Family members include spouses and unmarried partners if the provisions of the host State treat unmarried couples in the same way as married couples. Children of a married or unmarried couple or adopted children and other members of the family are considered part of the family if they are dependent on an asylum applicant or if they have undergone particularly traumatic experiences or require special medical treatment.

The Directive will apply to all nationals of third countries as well as to stateless persons who have requested asylum at the border or on the territory of a Member State. In addition, the Directive will apply to family members accompanying the applicant. The Directive does not apply to third country nationals or stateless persons who submit their requests for diplomatic or territorial asylum to the representations of Member States.

Member States will be free to apply more favourable conditions of reception and they may apply the same conditions to applicants for forms of protection other than those provided for by the Geneva Convention.

Provisions relating to reception conditions

Applicants must be informed of their rights and the benefits they may claim, as well as the obligations they have to comply with. They will receive a document certifying their status as applicants for asylum, which will be renewable until they are notified of the decision on their application for asylum. Moreover, the Member State may provide a travel document when serious humanitarian reasons arise that require their presence in another State.

As a rule, Member States must allow applicants freedom of movement within their territory. Detention will only be allowed in order to check the identity of the applicant for asylum. Movement can be limited to part of the national territory in many cases, but it will only be compulsory for specific reasons (for example, processing applications swiftly). In any case, provision will be made for a review of the above limits.


Member States must guarantee:

  • certain material reception conditions, in particular accommodation, food and clothing, in kind or in the form of a financial allowance. Allowances must be such that they prevent the applicant from becoming destitute;
  • family unity;
  • medical and psychological care;
  • access to the education system for minor children and language courses to enable them to attend ordinary school.

Member States cannot deny applicants for asylum access to the labour market and vocational training six months after they have lodged their application. Member States remain in full control of the internal labour market as they can decide the kind of work asylum applicants may apply for, the amount of time per month or per year they are allowed to work, the skills and qualifications they should have, etc.

Material reception conditions and medical and psychological care will be guaranteed during all types of procedures (regular, admissibility, accelerated and appeal procedures), in order to ensure a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of the applicants and their families. If his/her economic situation permits it, the Member State could decide that the applicant should contribute partially or totally to the cost of the material reception conditions and medical and psychological care.

Moreover, special medical and psychological care must be given to pregnant women, minors, the mentally ill, the disabled and victims of rape and other forms of violence.

Member countries must provide lodgings in a house, accommodation centre or hotel, in order to protect family life and privacy. In all cases, applicants must have the possibility of communicating with legal advisers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Reduction or withdrawal of reception conditions

Member States can reduce or withdraw reception conditions if the applicant:

  • disappears without reasonable cause, or does not comply with requests for information or fails to appear for personal interviews concerning the asylum procedure;
  • has withdrawn his application;
  • has unduly benefited from material reception conditions;
  • presents a threat to national security or is suspected of having committed a war crime or a crime against humanity.

Decisions will be taken objectively and impartially, based exclusively on the individual behaviour of the person in question who can lodge an appeal against the decision reducing or withdrawing reception conditions and, where necessary, be entitled to legal assistance.

In all cases, emergency medical care cannot be reduced or withdrawn.

Special provisions

Member States must pay special attention to the situation of minors, disabled people, elderly people and victims of discrimination or exploitation. In particular, they should take measures to protect children who have been victims of abuse, exploitation, torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

As soon as possible, a guardian will be appointed for each unaccompanied minor. In addition, the Member States will endeavour to trace the members of his family.

Victims of torture or violence will have access to rehabilitation programmes and post-traumatic counselling.

Cooperation and final provisions

Each Member State will appoint a national contact point in order to ensure close cooperation with the other Member States.

Member States will ensure that appropriate measures are in place to promote harmonious relationships between local communities and accommodation centres that are located on their territory with a view to preventing acts of racism, sex discrimination and xenophobia against applicants for asylum.

Organisations responsible for implementing this Directive must have adequate human resources. Staff working with asylum applicants will receive special training and will be bound by the duty of confidentiality.

By 6 August 2006, the Commission will report to the European Parliament and the Council on the application of this Directive and will propose any amendments that are necessary. After presenting the report, the Commission will report at least every five years.


At the Tampere European Council of 1999, the Member States agreed to work towards a common European asylum procedure. In the short term, that entailed laying down certain common minimum conditions of reception of asylum seekers (points 13 and 14 of the conclusions of the Tampere European Council).

In addition, the scoreboard approved by the Council on 27 March 2000 made provisions for the presentation of a draft directive laying down minimum standards on the reception of applicants for asylum.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 2003/9/EC



OJ L 31 of 6.2.2003


Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council of 3 December 2008 laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers (Recast) [COM(2008) 815 final – Not published in the Official Journal]. This proposal aims to replace Directive 2003/9/EC in order to address the deficiencies in the national reception conditions, as identified in the Evaluation Report below and in the consultation launched by the Green Paper on the Common European Asylum System (CEAS).

The new Directive will guarantee higher standards of reception conditions that will be in line with international law and harmonise national reception policies so that the secondary movements of asylum applicants are further limited. In particular, the proposal concerns the:

  • scope of the Directive, extending it to also include applicants for subsidiary protection. The Directive will apply to all types of asylum procedures, notwithstanding the geographic areas or facilities hosting the applicants;
  • access to the labour market, which is facilitated by allowing applicants to access employment after a maximum period of six months from lodging an asylum application and by obliging Member States to not restrict this access through national labour market conditions;
  • access to material reception conditions, which must provide an adequate standard of living to asylum applicants. Member States will need to take into account the level of social assistance allocated to nationals when providing financial support to asylum applicants and the gender, age and special needs of the applicants when assigning housing facilities. At the same time, the situations in which the reception conditions could be withdrawn entirely will be restricted;
  • detention, which is allowed only in exceptional cases. Fundamental rights and international as well as national law must be respected with regard to detained asylum applicants, with vulnerable groups given the attention they need. The detention of unaccompanied minors will be prohibited;
  • persons with special needs. Member States will need to put in place measures to identify these needs and to design reception conditions accordingly. Particular attention needs to be placed on access to health care, housing facilities and the education of minors;
  • implementation and improvements of national systems, which must be ensured via monitoring and controlling the national reception systems and through continued reporting at both the Community and national levels.

Co-decision procedure (2008/0244/COD)

Report from the Commission to the Council and to the European Parliament of 26 November 2007 on the application of Directive 2003/9/EC of 27 January 2003 laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers [COM(2007) 745 final – Official Journal C 55 of 28.2.2008].

Last updated: 09.12.2008