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High Commissioner speaks on asylum and migration in Asia-Pacific region

Press Releases, 15 April 2009

Wednesday, 15 April, 2009

NUSA DUA, Bali United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was in Indonesia today to take part in the Third Ministerial Conference of the Bali Process.

In addressing the meeting, Guterres highlighted the complexity of irregular and mixed migration in the Asia-Pacific region, noting that some movements are economically motivated while others are triggered by conflict or dire human rights situations. Refugees and asylum-seekers have, moreover, often transited through various countries in their search for protection and solutions. Many of them move on as a result of protracted refugee situations, having grown increasingly frustrated in the absence of solutions.

Fully recognizing that States have a legitimate right to define their own migration policies and protect their borders, Guterres emphasized that there is also a compelling human dimension that needs to be addressed. As refugees and asylum-seekers move, they frequently find themselves travelling on the same routes and in the same rickety boats as economic migrants. "Smugglers and traffickers often prey on people who are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse" he said, adding that "tough action against criminal agents has to go hand in hand with the protection of those in need of it." In this regard, he urged States to put in place effective mechanisms to identify and care for refugees and asylum-seekers.

The High Commissioner also suggested that to respond effectively to irregular and mixed movements affecting the region, a comprehensive approach is needed. This would have to address root causes and improve living standards and rights at the point of origin. It would also require a strengthening of the humanitarian space in asylum countries for those in need of international protection, as well as international solidarity to provide solutions in a spirit of burden sharing. Finally it should explore, whenever conditions permit, the possibility of voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity.

Guterres strongly welcomed a proposal that the Bali Process equip itself with a mechanism to develop regional responses to specific situations. While many problems can be managed bilaterally, he noted, certain issues are best addressed through a coherent regional approach in order to ensure protection and minimize secondary movements. Issues of region-wide concern would include principles regarding access to territory, protection and basic services pending solutions, common standards for voluntary repatriation, and legal migration opportunities. The High Commissioner briefed participants on his recent visit to northern Rakhine State in Myanmar and on the situation in Afghanistan.

In concluding, the High Commissioner noted that the Bali Process is an ideal forum for discussing the broader measures needed to address mixed and irregular flows of people.

"With its diverse membership which includes countries of origin, transit and destination, and represents a wide geographical region it offers the potential to reach a common understanding of irregular movements and to forge mechanisms for regional cooperation," he said.




UNHCR country pages


UNHCR advocates fair and efficient procedures for asylum-seekers

Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

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


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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.

The High Commissioner

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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

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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.

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The Faces of Asylum

One Year On: Rebuilding Aceh

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After the initial three-month emergency relief phase was over, UNHCR withdrew from Aceh. However, in June 2005, after the Indonesian government had assessed the needs for the reconstruction and rehabilitation phase, UNHCR returned to assist in rebuilding the west coast communities. All the survivors' main infrastructural needs – such as schools, community centres, places of worship and family homes – have been included in the holistic reconstruction effort, and efforts have been made to ensure they are all designed to suit the Acehnese way of life. Rebuilding is already underway in the villages of Kreung Sabee and in Calang.

UNHCR has also been helping the recovery effort on Nias Island, off the coast of Sumatra, which was struck by an 8.7 magnitude earthquake on 28 March.

One Year On: Rebuilding Aceh

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Greece: Ramping up refugee receptionPlay video

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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.