Keep the doors open
Setting the Agenda, 20 January 2011
GENEVA, January 20 (UNHCR) – UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, on Wednesday called on European countries to increase resettlement places and support for refugees as a show of solidarity for the host countries of the world's refugees, four fifths of whom live in developing countries.
Guterres made a specific request to Switzerland to consider restoring their resettlement programme in a speech entitled, "Keep the Doors Open" at the 4th Biennial Symposium on Asylum in Berne, Switzerland.
"Currently, Europe provides about 6,000 resettlement places a year, or approximately 7.5 per cent of the total number of places" Guterres told Swiss NGOs, judges, academics, lawyers and Government authorities. "A larger programme would provide very much needed solutions and demonstrate to major host countries in the developing world that Europe is ready to increase its solidarity with them," he added.
Guterres used the opportunity of the symposium to highlight the plight of Somali refugees, the majority of whom live in Kenya and Yemen. "I do not believe there is any group of refugees who are as systematically undesired, stigmatized and discriminated against as Somalis," said Guterres. He expressed dismay at ongoing deportations of Somalis by some states to Mogadishu "a capital subject to nearly continual shelling."
Having recently returned from Yemen, Guterres highlighted the positive example it offers in recognizing Somali's as refugees automatically upon arrival. This welcome comes despite "enormous internal problems."
Meanwhile in the developed world "not everything is bad," Guterres said. Amongst the good news he shared was that more than 120,000 people were granted refugee status in the industrialized world. But "there is still no European asylum system," Guterres said. He gave the example that "in 2009 the recognition rate for Somali asylum-seekers in EU member states ranged from 4 percent to 90 percent."
Highlighting the growing complexity of migration movements, Guterres described the movement of people across the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, including Somalis and Ethiopians. While some have protection needs that are 'obvious and overwhelming" others have fled 'the world's mega trends: population growth, food insecurity, water insecurity and climate change." While Guterres made clear that he does not want "all people on the move to be recognized as refugees" he called for states and others to discuss ways of providing protection to those who may not fall under the traditional definition of refugee.
The High Commissioner said that UNHCR has commissioned a study to better quantify the contributions made by host countries. Noting that the top 25 countries which host the most refugees are in the developing world he called upon "a new deal on burden sharing, to ensure that the generosity of host countries and communities is matched by solidarity from the developed world."
Speaking in the Swiss capital, Bern, Guterres highlighted the little known fact that in Switzerland "refugees and persons with provisional admission make up 0.6 percent of the total population… asylum seekers 0.2 percent." He went on to call for "greater honesty in our public discussions of refugee issues… tolerance has to be recognized as a virtue and not a vice."
Guterres highlighted the anniversaries Switzerland is celebrating this year, including 50 years of international aid, 40 years of humanitarian aid 75 years of the Swiss Refugee Council. In the same year UNHCR is commemorating the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
Taking the opportunity of these milestones, Guterres called for two pledges from Switzerland. The first 'to resume an ongoing resettlement programme' and the second to 'reaffirm its commitment to an asylum system." In the conclusion of his speech he said that the year 2011 should be used "to generate a new momentum of the international community to meet the needs of forcibly displaced people."
By Sybella Wilkes in Geneva