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Geneva dialogue supports coherent policy on refugees in migration flows

News Stories, 13 December 2007

© UNHCR/P.Bertschmann
High Commissioner António Guterres (right) addresses the Dialogue on Protection Challenges.

GENEVA, December 13 (UNHCR) A two-day UNHCR-organized dialogue among some 70 governments has voiced support for a more coherent, comprehensive and integrated approach to ensure the protection of refugees among the millions of migrants now on the move worldwide.

In a draft summary concluding the Dialogue on Protection Challenges at Geneva's Palais des Nations late Wednesday, High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres noted that participants urged the international community to maintain a distinction between refugees and migrants as a means to preserve the institution of asylum.

Much of the dialogue, the first in an annual series examining key refugee-related issues in a relatively informal setting, focused on how to better ensure that refugees forced to flee violence and persecution are able to find the protection they deserve as governments try to grapple with growing migratory movements on their borders.

The world's 10 million refugees constitute only a small proportion of the 200 million people now living outside their own country. But increasingly, refugees are mixed in with migrants on the move travelling in the same directions and using the same routes and means of transport. Distinguishing between those who are forced to flee and those who choose to move for economic or other reasons is a major challenge.

Guterres said there was broad agreement among participants for a comprehensive approach to fill the "protection gaps" and "grey areas" arising from these mixed flows of refugees and migrants. "The solution for addressing these gaps lies not in redefining mandates but in getting the international community to work together through new partnerships," he said.

Participants agreed to establish an informal working group that will include non-governmental organizations, governments and relevant agencies who will examine how to address these gaps in a more coordinated way.

Participants also focused on human smuggling and trafficking, including irregular maritime migration. Tens of thousands of boat people risk their lives each year in the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Aden, the Caribbean and off the coast of West Africa.

At a side event devoted to rescue at sea, UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller reminded the participants of recent tragedies in the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. In the last week alone, some 200 people drowned or went missing in separate incidents off Turkey, the Spanish Canary Islands and Yemen.

UNHCR and its partners, including the International Maritime Organization (IMO), are promoting measures that will save those who are in distress on the high seas and ensure their safe and timely disembarkation. Guterres said the heads of relevant agencies involved in maritime migration issues will meet early next year.

"The sea is a very dangerous environment," said Graham Mapplebeck of the IMO. "Only through cooperation and coordination by all those involved can we ensure the safety and preservation of human life at sea."

The next High Commissioner's Dialogue will be convened in the first half of next year, Guterres announced.



Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

All in the same boat: The challenges of mixed migration around the world.

Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action

A UNHCR strategy setting out key areas in which action is required to address the phenomenon of mixed and irregular movements of people. See also: Schematic representation of a profiling and referral mechanism in the context of addressing mixed migratory movements.

International Migration

The link between movements of refugees and broader migration attracts growing attention.

Mixed Migration

Migrants are different from refugees but the two sometimes travel alongside each other.

Rescue at Sea

A guide to principles and practice as applied to migrants and refugees.


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

Drifting Towards Italy

Every year, Europe's favourite summer playground - the Mediterranean Sea - turns into a graveyard as hundreds of men, women and children drown in a desperate bid to reach European Union (EU) countries.

The Italian island of Lampedusa is just 290 kilometres off the coast of Libya. In 2006, some 18,000 people crossed this perilous stretch of sea - mostly on inflatable dinghies fitted with an outboard engine. Some were seeking employment, others wanted to reunite with family members and still others were fleeing persecution, conflict or indiscriminate violence and had no choice but to leave through irregular routes in their search for safety.

Of those who made it to Lampedusa, some 6,000 claimed asylum. And nearly half of these were recognized as refugees or granted some form of protection by the Italian authorities.

In August 2007, the authorities in Lampedusa opened a new reception centre to ensure that people arriving by boat or rescued at sea are received in a dignified way and are provided with adequate accommodation and medical facilities.

Drifting Towards Italy

New Arrivals in Yemen

During one six-day period at the end of March, more than 1,100 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived on the shores of Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden on smuggler's boats from Bosaso, Somalia. At least 28 people died during these recent voyages – from asphyxiation, beating or drowning – and many were badly injured by the smugglers. Others suffered skin problems as a result of prolonged contact with sea water, human waste, diesel oil and other chemicals.

During a recent visit to Yemen, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller pledged to further raise the profile of the situation, to appeal for additional funding and international action to help Yemen, and to develop projects that will improve the living conditions and self sufficiency of the refugees in Yemen.

Since January 2006, Yemen has received nearly 30,000 people from Somalia, Ethiopia and other places, while more than 500 people have died during the sea crossing and at least 300 remain missing. UNHCR provides assistance, care and housing to more than 100,000 refugees already in Yemen.

New Arrivals in Yemen

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Every year thousands of people in the Horn of Africa - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - leave their homes out of fear or pure despair, in search of safety or a better life. They make their way over dangerous Somali roads to Bossaso in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In this lawless area, smuggler networks have free reign and innocent and desperate civilians pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden.

Some stay weeks on end in safe houses or temporary homes in Bossaso before they can depart. A sudden call and a departure in the middle of the night, crammed in small unstable boats. At sea, anything can happen to them - they are at the whim of smugglers. Some people get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before arriving on the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds who many of those who died en route.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

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UNHCR - IDC video on alternatives to detention for children

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