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EU asylum programme must focus on burden-sharing, says Lubbers

News Stories, 5 November 2004

© UNHCR/M.Cierna
A refugee reception centre in Adamov, Slovakia. Greater burden-sharing within the EU is crucial as more asylum seekers flock to new EU states like Slovakia.

GENEVA, Nov 5 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has welcomed today's adoption of the European Union's new multiannual asylum programme, but warned that much more needs to be done for refugee protection both in Europe and beyond.

"UNHCR looks forward to working with the EU to make sure that we provide better protection to refugees," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, responding to the European Council's adoption of the EU's five-year programme in the area of freedom, security and justice, known as the "Hague Programme", in Brussels on Friday.

He added, "The first phase of EU harmonization of asylum policy was only a beginning. Much more needs to be done, both within Europe's borders and beyond."

The first phase, from 1999-2004, saw the adoption of a set of directives containing minimum standards. Now that EU countries must transpose these directives into national legislation, UNHCR has urged them to adopt or retain national laws which offer higher levels of refugee protection instead of harmonizing their policies at the level of the lowest common denominator allowed by the directives.

In an editorial released earlier in the day, Lubbers had advised EU leaders that to manage instead of simply react to today's asylum and migration challenges, they need to harmonize not only their laws but also their practice.

The Hague Programme states that the transposition process will be monitored, with an evaluation of the measures adopted in the first phase of harmonization set for 2007. UNHCR has called on the EU to ensure that the process is transparent and consultative, taking into account the views of independent experts, including UNHCR and specialised non-governmental organisations.

In Brussels, EU leaders agreed to put a common asylum system in place by 2010, with the European Commission studying the legal and practical implications of joint processing of asylum applications within the EU.

As High Commissioner Lubbers pointed out in this morning's editorial, the current standards of refugee recognition and asylum procedures in EU countries vary greatly. UNHCR hopes that the joint processing, if it is ever adopted, will ensure greater consistency and higher quality in decision-making.

This, in turn, could lead to a faster and more efficient system for returning properly rejected cases to their home countries. In the meantime, practical cooperation among EU states and between them and UNHCR could help to improve asylum decision-making throughout Europe.

The refugee agency also welcomed the external dimension of European asylum policy, noting that the Hague Programme's "Regional Protection Plans" could fit well with UNHCR's Convention Plus initiative to help the bulk of the world's refugees who remain in developing countries. Thus the EU could contribute a great deal towards building a more accessible, equitable and effective system of refugee protection worldwide.

"These plans should be directed at a genuine improvement in the protection and welfare of refugees in other parts of the world," said Lubbers. "They must also be coupled with European readiness to share responsibilities with the developing countries where most of the world's refugees are sheltered. If their purpose is simply to shift the burden, then not only will they be doomed to failure, they will also seriously undermine the global refugee system, to the detriment of everyone including the EU itself."

In his editorial, the High Commissioner had urged EU leaders to shun political expediency in favour of a reliable asylum system that is fair and efficient.





Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

Convention Plus

International initiative aimed at improving refugee protection worldwide and to facilitate the resolution of refugee problems through multilateral special agreements.


UNHCR advocates fair and efficient procedures for asylum-seekers

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

France is one of the main destinations for asylum-seekers in Europe, with some 55,000 new asylum applications in 2012. As a result of the growing number of applicants, many French cities are facing an acute shortage of accommodation for asylum-seekers.

The government is trying to address the problem and, in February 2013, announced the creation of 4,000 additional places in state-run reception centres for asylum-seekers. But many asylum-seekers are still forced to sleep rough or to occupy empty buildings. One such building, dubbed the "Refugee Hotel" by its transient population, lies on the outskirts of the eastern city of Dijon. It illustrates the critical accommodation situation.

The former meat-packing plant is home to about 100 asylum-seekers, mostly from Chad, Mali and Somalia, but also from Georgia, Kosovo and other Eastern European countries. Most are single men, but there are also two families.

In this dank, rat-infested empty building, the pipes leak and the electricity supply is sporadic. There is only one lavatory, two taps with running water, no bathing facilities and no kitchen. The asylum-seekers sleep in the former cold-storage rooms. The authorities have tried to close the squat several times. These images, taken by British photographer Jason Tanner, show the desperate state of the building and depict the people who call it home.

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

Rescue at Sea

Summer, with its fair weather and calmer seas, often brings an increase in the number of people risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean and seek asylum in Europe. But this year the numbers have grown by a staggering amount. In the month of June, the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation picked up desperate passengers at a rate of more than 750 per day.

In late June, UNHCR photographer Alfredo D'Amato boarded the San Giorgio, an Italian naval ship taking part in the operation, to document the rescue process - including the first sighting of boats from a military helicopter, the passengers' transfer to small rescue boats and then the mother ship, and finally their return to dry land in Puglia, Italy.

In the span of just six hours on 28 June, the crew rescued 1,171 people from four overcrowded boats. Over half were from war-torn Syrian, mostly families and large groups. Others came from Eritrea and Sudan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia, Bangladesh and beyond. D'Amato's images and the interviews that accompanied them are windows into the lives of people whose situation at home had become so precarious that they were willing to risk it all.

Rescue at Sea

The Faces of Asylum

Everyone has a right to be treated humanely and with dignity. But asylum-seekers can sometimes be detained for years, forced to exist on the edge of society and struggle for their right to protection, while in some cases suffering human rights abuses. Their temporary new homes - a long way from the ones they left behind - can be sports halls, churches, closed centres, makeshift shelters or simply the street. Lives are put on hold while people wait in the hope of receiving refugee status.

Although it is the legitimate right of any government to secure its borders and prevent irregular immigration, it is important that anyone seeking asylum in a country have access to it. According to international law, states are obliged to provide protection to those in need, and must not return a person to a place where their life or freedom is threatened.

This photo set looks at the faces of people seeking asylum in industrialized countries - the real people behind the numbers, crossing land borders and oceans in search of safety, work or just a better life.

The Faces of Asylum

Greece: Ramping up refugee receptionPlay video

Greece: Ramping up refugee reception

UNHCR staff are working with Government authorities, NGOs and volunteers on the beaches of the Greek island of Lesvos to receive cold, wet and fearful asylum seekers making landfall around the clock. They wrap them in thermal blankets and take them to warm, safe emergency accommodation at transit sites, with power and Wi-Fi connectivity.
Italy: Mediterranean RescuePlay video

Italy: Mediterranean Rescue

The Italy Navy rescues hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers on the high seas as the numbers of people undertaking the crossing of the Mediterranean from North Africa grows.
Italy: Waiting for AsylumPlay video

Italy: Waiting for Asylum

Sicily has a high number of asylum-seekers because of its location in the south of Italy. In 2011, Cara Mineo was set up to provide asylum-seekers with a place to live while their applications were processed. Today, more than 4,000 people stay there and must wait up to a year for a decision on their applications.