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French Minister meets with High Commissioner regarding mixed migration

Briefing Notes, 18 September 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 18 September 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

During a meeting with French Minister for Immigration Eric Besson yesterday, 18 September, in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres said he hoped that appropriate measures will be taken to assure the protection of asylum seekers and unaccompanied children during the public action to take place in the northern French city of Calais in the course of the next week. This was expressed following Mr. Besson's announcement earlier in the week that French authorities will close down the various makeshift settlements in and around Calais known as the 'jungle' where several hundred undocumented foreigners are waiting in the hope to cross into the UK.

The High Commissioner recognized the challenges posed by irregular migration, and the strain which the network of smugglers and traffickers poses on the Calais region. He further recognized the right of the French Government to maintain law and order. However, he noted that among the irregular migrants in the region there are persons in need of international protection, and noted the protection needs of these individuals, particularly the large number of unaccompanied children.

UNHCR was encouraged by France's commitment to ensure that the situation of each individual is carefully examined and appropriate solutions found. This should include access to full and fair asylum procedures and the option of assisted voluntary return. It was recognized that many of the people present in the Calais area come from countries affected by war and insecurity such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia and the protection needs of such persons should be carefully considered. The High Commissioner encouraged France to provide accommodation to all asylum seekers, as well as unaccompanied children.

The High Commissioner noted that there is a need for a true European asylum space with consistent rules and procedures. He described the current system as 'asylum à la carte'. In view of the current disparities, he appealed for a flexible implementation of the Dublin II Regulation, which states that asylum claims should normally be decided in the first country where the applicant entered the EU. He reiterated UNHCR's views that asylum-seekers should not be returned to Greece, in view of deficiencies in the system there.

UNHCR is present in Calais providing information and counselling undocumented foreigners about claiming asylum in France and other options, such as voluntary return to their home country. Together with other organizations, UNHCR aims at helping the migrants to make an informed decision about their future.

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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.

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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.

Mixed Migration

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From the corners of the globe, the displaced converge in northern France

Hundreds of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees have created a number of makeshift camps in northern France. Drawn from a diverse range of countries, the men are hoping that from France they will be able to enter the United Kingdom.

Locals call it, "The Jungle" - a squalid warren of shanties made out of cardboard, plywood and bits of plastic that has mushroomed among the sand dunes and brambles outside Calais. Hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers from such faraway places as Afghanistan, Somalia and Vietnam have traveled for months and over rough terrain to camp out and eventually cross the 34-kilometre stretch of sea that separates Calais from England's White Cliffs of Dover.

Some have family in the UK or have heard that it is easy to get a good job there. Others have been forced to flee their countries because of political, religious or ethnic persecution, and may be entitled to refugee status.

Since early June, the UN refugee agency and its local partner, France Terre d'Asile, have been present in Calais, informing and counselling hundreds of people about asylum systems and procedures in France and the UK.

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Braving the cold in Calais

Many boys and young men from places like Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Somalia and the Sudan end up in the northern French port of Calais after a long and dangerous journey. Some have fled their countries to escape persecution, conflict or forced recruitment, others are looking for a better life. Calais has become a transit point where people smugglers have established networks to take these men to other European countries. Their makeshift encampments are regularly cleared by the French police, and they sleep most nights out in the open. They live in fear of being arrested or deported. UNHCR's office in Calais seeks to provide the young men arriving in the city with information about their options and the asylum system in France.

Braving the cold in Calais

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