UNHCR issues recommendations as Poland assumes EU Presidency

Briefing Notes, 1 July 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 1 July 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR has made recommendations to Poland on taking forward the EU asylum agenda, upon the commencement of its European Union Presidency today. This will be the first time that Poland has taken on the rotating EU Presidency since it joined the Union in 2004. In its paper, UNHCR highlights the fact that Poland assumes the Presidency on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention the very instrument which protected many Polish refugees during the first 40 years of the Convention's existence. Today Poland is itself an asylum country. Last year, 6,540 persons applied for asylum in Poland making it the 10th largest recipient country among the 27 EU member states.

The UNHCR recommendations focus on four areas: (1) The need for Europe to keep its borders open to people fleeing the crisis in Libya, and to show solidarity with Tunisia and Egypt, as the countries of first refuge; (2) the importance of continued efforts to build asylum capacity and protection space in countries at the EU's Eastern border as well as in the Western Balkans; (3) the work which remains to be done in order to build a truly Common European Asylum System, in view of continued major discrepancies in the practice of EU countries; and (4) the EU's potential contribution to UNHCR's Commemorations in 2011 of the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention and the 50th Anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. UNHCR encourages the EU to come to the December Ministerial Meeting which the High Commissioner is convening with concrete pledges of actions, in particular in the area of refugee resettlement. UNHCR further urges EU countries to accede to the 1954 and 1961 Statelessness Conventions, pointing out that only 14 of the 27 EU Member States are Parties to both of these instruments.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Brussels: Melita Sunjic, on mobile +32 473 17 23 58

  • In Budapest, Hungary: Roland Schoenbauer, on mobile + 36 30 375 32 55

UNHCR's Recommendations to Poland for its EU Presidency (PDF)

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UNHCR's Recommendations to Poland for its EU Presidency

July-December 2011. Also available in Spanish on Refworld.

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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

Statelessness and Women

Statelessness can arise when citizenship laws do not treat men and women equally. Statelessness bars people from rights that most people take for granted such as getting a job, buying a house, travelling, opening a bank account, getting an education, accessing health care. It can even lead to detention.

In some countries, nationality laws do not allow mothers to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis as fathers and this creates the risk that these children will be left stateless. In others, women cannot acquire, change or retain their nationality on an equal basis as men. More than 40 countries still discriminate against women with respect to these elements.

Fortunately, there is a growing trend for states to remedy gender discrimination in their nationality laws, as a result of developments in international human rights law and helped by vigorous advocacy from women's rights groups. The women and children depicted here have faced problems over nationality.

Statelessness and Women

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Khaled Hosseini - No one chooses to be a refugeePlay video

Khaled Hosseini - No one chooses to be a refugee

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Juanes - No one chooses to be a refugeePlay video

Juanes - 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 supporter Juanes and a host of other celebrities echo the same strong message: No one chooses to be a refugee.