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

UNHCR chief Guterres appeals to member states of the European Union to continue their efforts to build a coherent and effective common asylum system.

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.   © UNHCR/M.Cierna

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.