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European states urged to commit to quality in asylum procedures

News Stories, 21 September 2011

© UNHCR/B.Szandelszky
Young asylum-seekers play in front of a reception and integration centre in Bulgaria.

BRUSSELS, Belgium, September 21 (UNHCR) Officials from the UN refugee agency and the European Union (EU) have strongly urged European countries to give priority to the quality of their asylum procedures.

"Looking forward, quality has become the key word," the EU's Robert Visser told delegates at a conference convened last week by UNHCR in Brussels. The gathering, which included participants from 22 EU countries, marked the end of an ambitious UNHCR-run and EU-funded project to ensure that the quality of asylum procedures remains high on the agenda for building the Common European Asylum Policy.

"We are grateful that UNHCR has had the courage to tackle this important issue," added Visser, executive director of the Malta-based European Asylum Support Office, which was set up recently to facilitate practical cooperation among European Union states on asylum.

The refugee agency has been helping EU countries to build quality assurance mechanisms into their asylum procedures in recent years. The just completed "Further Developing EU Asylum Quality" project, launched 18 months ago, was conducted in nine member states Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia.

Several conference participants said the project the second of its kind had contributed significantly to improvements in quality by observing asylum systems in practice, identifying shortcomings and suggesting practical solutions.

Delegates also stressed the importance of continuing with capacity building, training and further development of asylum procedures to ensure that the highest quality standards are implemented and used.

"Training and motivation are the crucial pillars for building a sustainable house of quality," stressed Michael Grieseback, vice-president of Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, in the conference opening speech. He added that government officials responsible for asylum decision-making need to have a "quality consciousness."

The tools developed under UNHCR's quality development project will also be of broad use. These include checklists for conducting interviews, a 100-page manual on how to ensure quality at each step of the asylum procedure, quality audit mechanisms, peer-training for decision-makers, codes of conduct for interpreters and many more measures with a sustainable effect.

Moreover, improved quality of asylum procedures can lead to reduced costs and increased efficiency. Interviews that are more targeted can be shorter, well-trained decision-makers can take decisions faster and, over time, the number of appeals and decisions overturned decreases.

"Asylum quality can mean the difference between life and death for people who seek protection in Europe. If you are wrongly sent back, you may face persecution or serious human rights violations," said Madeline Garlick, head of the Policy and Legal Support Unit in UNHCR's Europe Bureau. This was why UNHCR had "poured extensive energy and expertise into a hands-on project that has brought about enormous transformations," she added.

Garlick also noted that UNHCR and EU member states had worked closely together to develop methods for monitoring, analysing and fixing problems in asylum processes.

"This conference has shown that it is now widely accepted that mechanisms for maintaining and enhancing quality of asylum decisions are vital for strong and credible asylum systems. It is clear that quality is now firmly on the EU agenda."





UNHCR advocates fair and efficient procedures for asylum-seekers

Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

All in the same boat: The challenges of mixed migration around the world.

EU Asylum Law and Policy

EU law and practice affects creation of refugee protection mechanisms in other countries.


Numbers are important in the aid business and UNHCR's statisticians monitor them daily.


Trends on asylum and protection in EU Member States.

EU Instruments

UNHCR's regularly comments on key EU Regulations and Directives relating to asylum.

UNHCR Projects

UNHCR has numerous projects with EU Member States to improve the quality of asylum.

Judicial Engagement

UNHCR expertise helps courts interpret legislation in accordance with international asylum law.


The significance of resettlement as a durable solution is increasing in the EU.

Integration (refugee rights) and Family Reunification

Integration is a two-way process requiring efforts by the host societies as well as the refugees.

Border Cooperation

UNHCR is lobbying for protection-sensitive border management.

Asylum Practice

UNHCR is monitoring asylum practice and whether it is consistent with the 1951 Convention.

Practical cooperation

UNHCR is promoting and supporting cooperation with EU Member States and EASO.

Working with the European Union

EU law and practice affects creation of refugee protection mechanisms in other countries.

Groups of Concern

UNHCR expects Member States to pay particular attention to asylum seekers and refugees with specific needs.

Statelessness in Europe

UNHCR engages with EU Member States to identify and resolve the problems of stateless persons.

UNHCR Central Mediterranean Sea Initiative (CMSI)

EU solidarity for rescue-at-sea and protection of Asylum Seekers and Migrants.

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

France is one of the main destinations for asylum-seekers in Europe, with some 55,000 new asylum applications in 2012. As a result of the growing number of applicants, many French cities are facing an acute shortage of accommodation for asylum-seekers.

The government is trying to address the problem and, in February 2013, announced the creation of 4,000 additional places in state-run reception centres for asylum-seekers. But many asylum-seekers are still forced to sleep rough or to occupy empty buildings. One such building, dubbed the "Refugee Hotel" by its transient population, lies on the outskirts of the eastern city of Dijon. It illustrates the critical accommodation situation.

The former meat-packing plant is home to about 100 asylum-seekers, mostly from Chad, Mali and Somalia, but also from Georgia, Kosovo and other Eastern European countries. Most are single men, but there are also two families.

In this dank, rat-infested empty building, the pipes leak and the electricity supply is sporadic. There is only one lavatory, two taps with running water, no bathing facilities and no kitchen. The asylum-seekers sleep in the former cold-storage rooms. The authorities have tried to close the squat several times. These images, taken by British photographer Jason Tanner, show the desperate state of the building and depict the people who call it home.

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

The Faces of Asylum

Everyone has a right to be treated humanely and with dignity. But asylum-seekers can sometimes be detained for years, forced to exist on the edge of society and struggle for their right to protection, while in some cases suffering human rights abuses. Their temporary new homes - a long way from the ones they left behind - can be sports halls, churches, closed centres, makeshift shelters or simply the street. Lives are put on hold while people wait in the hope of receiving refugee status.

Although it is the legitimate right of any government to secure its borders and prevent irregular immigration, it is important that anyone seeking asylum in a country have access to it. According to international law, states are obliged to provide protection to those in need, and must not return a person to a place where their life or freedom is threatened.

This photo set looks at the faces of people seeking asylum in industrialized countries - the real people behind the numbers, crossing land borders and oceans in search of safety, work or just a better life.

The Faces of Asylum

Beyond the Border

In 2010, the Turkish border with Greece became the main entry point for people attempting by irregular methods to reach member states of the European Union, with over 132,000 arrivals. While some entered as migrants with the simple wish of finding a better life, a significant number fled violence or persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. The journey is perilous, with many reports of drowning when people board flimsy vessels and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the River Evros on the border between Greece and Turkey. The many deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are exacerbated by the pressure of tens of thousands of people awaiting asylum hearings. Reception facilities for new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are woefully inadequate. Last year, UNHCR visited a number of overcrowded facilities where children, men and women were detained in cramped rooms with insufficient facilities. UNHCR is working with the Greek government to improve its asylum system and has called upon other European states to offer support.

Beyond the Border

Christmas tree a gift of love for refugees in GreecePlay video

Christmas tree a gift of love for refugees in Greece

For children spending Christmas at the Idomeni refugee reception centre in northern Greece, Congolese asylum seeker Michel Kamusha has "a gift of love." Drawing on his skills as an artist he decorates a Christmas with tree with socks, toys, shoes and clothes to give the youngsters "hope for Christmas."
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.
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.