Informal Meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council; Remarks by António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Copenhagen, 26 January 2012

Mr Chairman - thank you first of all for your kind invitation. Honourable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The fundamental purpose of solidarity must be to improve protection for individuals forced to flee, as foreseen in the 1951 Refugee Convention and in EU law. But solidarity is also clearly in the interest of States - not only those facing asylum pressures, but also those interested in developing international partnerships and promoting human rights, development and stability; central objectives for the Union.

There are two fundamental principles of solidarity in the asylum context. The first is consistency. National asylum systems in Europe are vastly different, creating harsh imbalances. If an Afghan seeks asylum in Europe, the chances of receiving protection vary from 8% to 91%, depending on the Member State where the claim is lodged. Effective harmonization of asylum practices must go hand-in-hand with solidarity. Each Member State assuming its own responsibilities is a basic requirement for solidarity to be possible.

The second principle is burden-sharing in favour of those who face disproportionate pressure, both globally and within the EU.

Based on these principles, I see three concrete elements which can help us move towards effective solidarity.

The first element is solidarity within the EU. I agree it is time to think of this in new ways - always with the focus on improving protection. Several positive ideas are on the table, as noted in the Presidency's background paper for today's meeting, and the Commission's recent Communication on this subject.

UNHCR supports the Presidency's proposal to develop a common framework containing practical tools and mechanisms for solidarity. Such a framework must start with effective measures for identifying gaps and developing solutions, such as the proposed 'early warning' and evaluation mechanism for Dublin II. There is also a need for broader thinking on the quality and functioning of asylum systems more generally, and the overall operation of the Dublin arrangement. We also look forward to the EC's planned study on joint processing of asylum claims in Europe, to which we are ready to contribute with our experience, commitment and knowledge. In addition, an enhanced voluntary relocation programme should be foreseen. Funding and technical support are essential, but solidarity must go beyond that.

Solidarity requires building trust to enable those concerned to share tasks and burdens. UNHCR is ready to strengthen its existing cooperation with Member States and EU institutions, including particularly the EASO, through enhanced information-gathering and practical cooperation on asylum. We also encourage further progress towards necessary changes to legislation, including the Dublin Regulation, to strengthen key safeguards for asylum applicants.

But in Europe's interest, European solidarity must also be felt by the outside world. Therefore, the second element of EU solidarity which I hope to see strengthened is resettlement. It remains a critical tool for the most vulnerable refugees and the most concrete demonstration of willingness to share responsibility with refugee-hosting countries elsewhere.

The proposed EU Joint Resettlement Programme should be adopted in the very near future. This will help to increase resettlement quotas and mean more visibility for Europe's global contribution.

Finally, and most importantly, global solidarity. 80% of today's refugees are hosted by developing countries, often for decades. Many of these countries cannot manage this challenge alone. Nor should they have to.

Continued European support to these countries, through Regional Protection Programmes, humanitarian and development aid as well as capacity-building, is in the interest of all concerned. This is particularly important for durable solutions - the only real way to alleviate pressure; be it by making voluntary returns sustainable, or realizing the full potential of local integration opportunities - and for addressing the need to prevent displacement, including through support for climate change adaptation in countries more exposed to its adverse effects.

In conclusion, allow me to note that while migration management is important to this discussion, measures taken in this context must contain safeguards for those who seek refuge, upholding the protection objective of solidarity. States have the right, and the obligation, to define their own immigration policies and manage their borders responsibly. But this needs to be done in a way that is protection-sensitive and that does not prevent those who need protection from accessing EU territory.

Thank you very much. I look forward to our discussion.