QUESTION: What is UNHCR's opinion of new Swiss asylum measures?

Briefing Notes, 27 September 2005

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 27 September 2005, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

We are disappointed that, despite the fact that the number of asylum applications in Switzerland has been falling steadily and is now at its lowest since 1987, new restrictive legislation is being adopted which could make access to asylum procedures exceedingly difficult for genuine refugees.

UNHCR has reiterated numerous times its serious concerns relating in particular to the provisions that would restrict access to asylum for people who have no valid travel or identity documents. The 1951 Convention specifically acknowledges and provides for refugees who may have had to flee their country without being able to obtain valid travel or identity documents. We should not forget that people trying to enter a country without documentation may have valid reasons to do so. It is often not possible for people fleeing for their lives to obtain such documents. This provision is amongst the strictest in Europe. In this context, we urge the authorities to ensure that this provision is applied in each individual case in conformity with the Convention.

Governments have the responsibility to manage migration flows, but this has to be done in a way that ensures that bona fide asylum seekers have access to asylum procedures. The right to seek and enjoy asylum is a universal human right. We are concerned that some of the provisions in this law could result in some deserving cases being denied access to international protection.

We also regret, amongst others, that the proposal to introduce a complementary protection status for individuals that do not qualify for refugee status but who are still in need and equally deserving of international protection (for example, because they could be exposed to serious harm in the context of an ongoing conflict), was not retained. This would have brought Swiss legislation closer to European norms. On the basis of its mandate, UNHCR will continue to work with the Swiss authorities toward a fair and effective asylum system.

Last year there were 14,000 asylum applications in Switzerland. This was 32 percent lower than the previous year. So far this year, there have been 4,700 applications. This is 44 percent lower than the same period last year.




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2014 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented the Colombian women's rights group, Butterflies with New Wings Building a Future, with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday night.

The volunteer members of Butterflies risk their lives each day to help survivors of forced displacement and sexual abuse in the Pacific Coast city of Buenaventura. This city has some of the highest rates of violence and displacement due to escalating rivalries between illegal armed groups.

Drawing on only the most modest of resources, volunteers cautiously move through the most dangerous neighbourhoods to help women access medical care and report crimes. This work, deep inside the communities, helps them reach the most vulnerable women, but also brings with it danger and threats from the illegal armed groups.

The Award ceremony, in its 60th year, was held in Geneva's Bâtiment des Forces Motrices, and featured musical performances by UNHCR supporters, Swedish-Lebanese singer-songwriter Maher Zain and Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré. The Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela also performed at the ceremony.

2014 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented Sister Angélique Namaika of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award at a gala ceremony in Geneva on Monday night.

Sister Angélique, through her Centre for Reintegration and Development, has helped transform the lives of more than 2,000 women and girls who had been forced from their homes and abused by fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) or other armed groups. Many of those she helps suffered abduction, forced labour, beatings, murder, rape or other human rights abuses.

The Roman Catholic nun helps survivors to heal by offering them the chance to learn a trade, start a small business or go to school. Testimonies from these women show the remarkable effect she has had on helping turn around their lives, with many affectionately calling her "mother."

The Award ceremony featured a keynote speech from best-selling author Paulo Coelho and musical performances by singer-songwriter Dido, Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna and Grammy-nominated Malian musicians, Amadou and Mariam.

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

Nansen Refugee Award Presentation Ceremony

More than 400 people attended the annual presentation in Geneva in October 1, 2012 of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award. This year's inspirational winner from Somalia, Hawa Aden Mohamed, was unable to attend for health reasons, but she sent a video message. In the former refugee's absence, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented the award and Nansen medal to her sister, Shukri Aden Mohamed.

The 63-year-old humanitarian, educator and women's rights advocate, widely known as "Mama" Hawa, was honoured for her extraordinary service - under extremely difficult conditions - on behalf of refugees and the internally displaced, mainly women and girls but also including boys.

Above all she has been recognized for her work - as founder and director of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development in Somalia's Puntland region - in helping to empower thousands of displaced Somali women and girls, many of whom are victims of rape. The centre provides secondary education as well as life skills training.

The packed event also included an address by Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, co-winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, and a video tribute to Mama Hawa as well as performances from UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador and classical singer, Barbara Hendricks, and up and coming Swiss musician Bastian Baker.

Nansen Refugee Award Presentation Ceremony

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