UNHCR chief calls on EU states to build a "Europe of Asylum"

News Stories, 8 September 2008

© UNHCR/M.Cierna
A Chechen family wait to hear about their application for asylum in Slovakia. UNHCR chief Guterres addressed EU states on asylum issues at the Paris meeting.

PARIS, France, September 8 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres appealed on Monday to member states of the European Union (EU) to continue their efforts to build a coherent and effective common asylum system.

Addressing ministers responsible for asylum and migration in the 27 EU member states at a conference in Paris, Guterres said a common European asylum system could "serve as an example to the entire world" if it truly guaranteed the protection of refugees.

As an important global actor, the EU has a key role to play to meet the challenges of forced displacement in the world. Guterres called the effort to build a common European asylum system an "ambitious and unprecedented venture" and a "unique opportunity to strengthen refugee protection."

However, he stressed that the European Union must remain accessible for people seeking protection, noting that many people put themselves in the hands of human smugglers and traffickers because of the plethora of barriers to entry.

The High Commissioner pointed out the need to ensure quality in asylum decision-making and to correct the wide disparities in the practice of member states. These disparities are not compatible with a common system which seeks to guarantee equal access to protection across the EU. He urged the EU to take up this challenge by enhancing practical cooperation among states.

More than 80 percent of the world's refugees are hosted by countries in the developing world. The High Commissioner appealed to EU member states to demonstrate their solidarity with third countries, not only by honouring their obligation to offer international protection to those who arrive across their borders, but also by increasing the number of refugees accepted through resettlement. Speaking of the resettlement of these refugees, Guterres noted: "The EU can and should do more."

In his presentation, Guterres also referred to the humanitarian situation in Georgia, where UNHCR is assisting tens of thousand of newly displaced people, in addition to the nearly 220,000 people displaced before the August conflict over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. "Such crises remind us that Europe is not spared the problems of forced displacement," he said.

The two-day ministerial conference, "Building a Europe of Asylum," has been convened in the Centre de Conférences Internationales Kléber by the French EU presidency. The aim of the meeting is to lay the foundations of the second phase of the Common European Asylum System. Practical cooperation in matters of asylum, the external dimension of the politics of asylum, and the future European Asylum System will be discussed.

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The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Advocacy

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

Life in the Shadows: People Smuggling at the European Union's Edge

So far this year, nearly 200,000 people have entered the European Union (EU) through irregular routes - many undertaking life-threatening journeys across the Mediterranean. At the fringes of the EU recently, on either side of the border between Hungary and Serbia, several Afghans and Syrians explained to UNHCR why they turned to smugglers to flee war and persecution to try to find safety in Europe. Some were staying in an abandoned brick factory in Serbia, waiting for smugglers to get them into Hungary and on to other points inside the EU. Others had been caught making just such a journey and were temporarily being held in police cells in south-eastern Hungary. The following images were taken by UNHCR's Kitty McKinsey.

Life in the Shadows: People Smuggling at the European Union's Edge

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

On 1 August, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres travelled to northern Burkina Faso with the United States' Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BRPM), Anne Richard. In Damba camp, they met with Malian refugees who had fled northern Mali in the past six months to escape the ongoing conflict and political instability. To date, more than 250,000 Malian refugees have fled their homes and found refuge in neighbouring countries, including 107,000 in Burkina Faso alone. The UN refugee agency has only received one-third of the US$153 million it needs to provide life-saving assistance such as shelter, water, sanitation, health services, nutrition and protection to the refugees. UNHCR fears that the volatile political and humanitarian situation in Mali could lead to further outflows to neighbouring countries.

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

UNHCR: An Appeal for AfricaPlay video

UNHCR: An Appeal for Africa

The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, called for more attention and help for African nations dealing with new and old displacements.
Lebanon: UN Agency Chiefs Visit Bekaa RefugeesPlay video

Lebanon: UN Agency Chiefs Visit Bekaa Refugees

The heads of UNHCR and the UN Development Programme visited Syrian refugees and joint projects in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. High Commissioner António Guterres said that the Syria crisis had become the worst humanitarian tragedy of our times.
Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat campPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat camp

Concluding a visit to Iraq, UNHCR chief António Guterres met with Syrian refugees in Arbat camp in the Kurdistan region. Guterres noted the recent proliferation of humanitarian crises, but urged the international community not to forget about Syria, "the mega protracted crisis of our times."