As states increase border controls, UNHCR calls for sensitivity for those fleeing persecution

Briefing Notes, 7 January 2011

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 7 January 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

We are concerned whenever states propose measures that aim at preventing irregular migrants from entering their territory without simultaneously putting concrete guarantees in place for those seeking international protection. We have received many queries concerning recent statements made by Greece about the possibility of building a 12 km fence along its side of the border with Turkey in the Evros region.

While every State has the right to control its borders, it is clear that among the many people crossing Turkey toward the European Union, there are a significant number who are fleeing violence and persecution. Establishing border control mechanisms which are sensitive to the needs of people seeking protection is therefore vital.

Building fences rarely solves the underlying problem of migratory pressures, including those of persons seeking protection. As with other measures which indiscriminately block arrivals, there is a risk that those seeking asylum will resort to even riskier routes to safety a reason why large numbers of asylum-seekers today find themselves in the hands of people-smuggling rings.

The problem in Greece is compounded by the fact that the asylum system is still not functioning despite ongoing reform efforts. UNHCR is working with government partners to establish a fair process for assessing the claims of asylum seekers. At present, many thousands of asylum-seekers are living in limbo in Greece.

In Turkey, the Government continues to implement a geographic limitation to the 1951 Convention, thereby taking responsibility for granting asylum only to refugees who come from European countries. However, most asylum-seekers in Turkey originate from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.

Claims of asylum seekers of non-European origin in Turkey are assessed by UNHCR. Those who are found to be refugees are permitted to remain, pending resettlement to a third country. However, the number of resettlement places falls short of the needs and at present there are approximately 10,000 refugees awaiting resettlement from Turkey. UNHCR is encouraging more countries, and in particular EU Member States, to show solidarity with Turkey by participating in the resettlement effort.




UNHCR country pages

Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action

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

Migrants are different from refugees but the two sometimes travel alongside each other.

Muazzez Ersoy

Muazzez Ersoy

George Dalaras

George Dalaras

The makeshift camp at Patras

Thousands of irregular migrants, some of whom are asylum-seekers and refugees, have sought shelter in a squalid, makeshift camp close to the Greek port of Patras since it opened 13 years ago. The camp consisted of shelters constructed from cardboard and wood and housed hundreds of people when it was closed by the Greek government in July 2009. UNHCR had long maintained that it did not provide appropriate accommodation for asylum-seekers and refugees. The agency had been urging the government to find an alternative and put a stronger asylum system in place to provide appropriate asylum reception facilities for the stream of irregular migrants arriving in Greece each year.The government used bulldozers to clear the camp, which was destroyed by a fire shortly afterwards. All the camp residents had earlier been moved and there were no casualties. Photographer Zalmaï, a former refugee from Afghanistan, visited the camp earlier in the year.

The makeshift camp at Patras

Greece: Ramping up refugee receptionPlay video

Greece: Ramping up refugee reception

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.
Serbia: Presevo Crossing from FYR MacedoniaPlay video

Serbia: Presevo Crossing from FYR Macedonia

On October 20, the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Greece passed the half million mark. Their ultimate destination is northern Europe. The majority will take a route that goes from Greece, to FYR Macedonia and then onward through Serbia. At the border point of Presevo, Serbia they must go through a registration process before being allowed to continue their onward journey.
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Refugees Onward JourneyPlay video

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Refugees Onward Journey

A transit centre at Vinojug, on FYR Macedonia's border with Greece is where the refugees and migrants pass through on their journey further into Europe. Here UNHCR and partner organisations provide food, water, medical care, psycho-social support and information for refugees who take the train towards the border with Serbia. UNHCR also provides information on how to access the asylum system in the country. In recent weeks, an average of 6,300 refugees pass through the camp every day, yesterday that number grew to 10,000, a record.