UNHCR issues recommendations to the Swedish EU Presidency

Briefing Notes, 23 June 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 23 June 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR has published its recommendations to Sweden for its upcoming EU Presidency (July December 2009), which will be a particularly critical period for the future of EU asylum policy. During the second half of this year, the EU will adopt a new multiannual programme in the area of Justice and Home Affairs which will determine the course of EU law and policy on asylum from 2010 through 2014.

UNHCR calls on Sweden to use its Presidency to reassert the importance of a rights-based approach to border management and migration control. Recent events, including Italy's push-backs of boat people and elections in which anti-immigrant parties scored big gains in a number of EU countries, give rise to concern about Europe's commitment to ensuring access to protection.

UNHCR supports strengthened solidarity among EU Member States, to assist those facing particular pressures resulting from the arrival of irregular migrants and asylum seekers, and suggests a menu of options in this respect which could include the relocation from one Member State to another of persons recognized as refugees. But UNHCR points out that this should not be at the expense of solidarity with non-EU countries hosting large refugee populations. UNHCR appeals for much stronger EU engagement in refugee resettlement, pointing out that the EU currently offers less than 10% of global resettlement places.

UNHCR's recommendations also stress the need to improve the quality and consistency of decision-making on asylum claims across the EU. The current situation, whereby applications from persons of the same nationality and with similar case histories have totally different outcomes from one country to another undermines the very premise of a Common European Asylum System. UNHCR hopes that the planned European Asylum Support Office will give top priority to this matter.

Although the European Commission's proposals for amendment of existing EU laws of asylum have met with considerable resistance from Member States, UNHCR believes that legislative amendments are needed to fill gaps and improve standards. UNHCR points out that more systematic observation and evaluation of the practice of EU countries is needed in order to identify best practices as well as shortcomings.

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Mahmoud's Journey: A Young Syrian Survives Being Shot At, Detained and Bullied to Find a New Life in Sweden

A photo essay by Shawn Baldwin and Johan Bävman

A photograph of Syrian refugee, Mahmoud, shows the nine-year-old looking wistfully out of the window of an apartment block in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. Perhaps he is thinking of happier days at school in his home town of Aleppo or maybe he is wondering what life will be like when he and his family are resettled in Sweden. When the image was taken late last year, Mahmoud had not been able to attend school for two years. His family had fled Syria in October 2012. Like 300,000 other Syrians, they sought shelter in Egypt, where life was tough - and became tougher in 2013, when public opinion began to turn against the Syrians as Egypt struggled with its own problems. Mahmoud became the target of bullies, even at one point being physically attacked. Afterwards, he refused to leave the rented family apartment in 6th of October City, a drab, sand-swept satellite suburb of Cairo.

Mahmoud's father tried to send him to Italy on a smuggler's boat, but the vessel was fired on and the traumatized boy ended up spending five days in a local detention centre. Once back home, he fell target to the bullying once more. But his case came to the attention of UNHCR and the refugee agency recommended Mahmoud and his family for resettlement. In January 2014, Mahmoud and his family flew to Sweden to begin a new life in the small town of Torsby, where he runs and plays outside without fear - he even had his first snowball fight. And now he is back at school.

Mahmoud's Journey: A Young Syrian Survives Being Shot At, Detained and Bullied to Find a New Life in Sweden

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

Nansen Award presentation for the late Senator Edward Kennedy

UNHCR's annual Nansen Refugee Award was posthumously awarded to Senator Edward Kennedy at a ceremony in Washington DC on October 29 for his life-long commitment to refugee rights. Kennedy's wife, Victoria, accepted the award on behalf of her late husband. In presenting the award, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, praised the "vision and commitment" of Senator Kennedy in his support for the displaced.

The prize money of US$100,000 will be donated to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, where it will be used to train the next generation of leaders dedicated to the cause of refugee advocacy. The Nansen Award is given to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees. It was created in 1954 in honour of Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian polar explorer, scientist and the first global High Commissioner for Refugees.

Nansen Award presentation for the late Senator Edward Kennedy

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Khaled Hosseini - No one chooses to be a refugee

UNHCR's 2012 World Refugee Day global social advocacy campaign, "Dilemmas", aims to help fight intolerance and xenophobia against refugees. UNHCR Goodwill Envoy Khaled Hosseini and a host of other celebrities echo the same strong message: No one chooses to be a refugee.