- The protection of asylum-seekers in Europe is dealt with under three principal bodies of law: the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951, the law of the European Union and the soft law developed by the Council of Europe.
- Member states of the Council of Europe are also bound by the judgments of the European Convention on Human Rights; although the convention makes no reference to refugee protection, its provisions and the judgments of its court in Strasbourg impose important obligations on states in respect of asylum.
- The entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty in 1999 initiated the first phase of the creation of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), which aimed to harmonize refugee protection among member states while enabling them to meet their international obligations in that respect.
- The harmonizing measures adopted by the EU have been subject to severe criticism and the practices of member states reveal a systemic failure to comply with international refugee protection obligations.
- While there have been improvements in European refugee policy, significant challenges must be addressed before Europe can regain its reputation as a champion of the rights of the refugee. This is given particular urgency by recent events in North Africa, which may lead to large numbers of persons fleeing violence and disorder.