Working with the European Union

The European Union (EU) has committed itself to building a Common European Asylum System based on the full and inclusive application of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, for which UNHCR has a supervisory responsibility. The EU has a central role with respect to asylum and resettlement issues inside and outside the Union, and EU law and practice has considerable influence on the development of refugee protection mechanisms in other countries.

EU institutions such as the European Council, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice have legislative, executive and judicial powers in areas directly relevant to UNHCR's mandate.

For all these reasons, UNHCR follows EU asylum law and policy very closely. UNHCR’s Europe Bureau collaborates with EU institutions in Brussels and maintains liaison offices in Malta and Poland, which deal respectively with the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and Frontex, the EU’s external border agency.

Promoting respect for international protection norms in EU law and policy is of vital importance to UNHCR and, accordingly, we provide views on a wide range of issues related to refugee protection, resettlement and integration in the 27 member EU. UNHCR's reports, proposals and observations on EU asylum law and policy can be found on this page.

Asylum Practice

EU Member States are responsible in law and practice for providing international protection and material assistance to asylum-seekers and refugees in conformity with international and EU asylum law. However, there are still very significant differences in approaches to protection from one country to another. Protection rates and entitlements, as well as the kind of reception assistance made available to asylum-seekers, continues to differ from country to country.

Based on its supervisory responsibility under paragraph eight of the UNHCR's Statute, in conjunction with Article 35 of the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees and Article II of its 1967 Protocol, UNHCR monitors the asylum practice of Member States and seeks to advise and assist them achieve conformity with international standards.

Border Cooperation

The European Union (EU) has 80,000 kilometres of external land and sea borders and hundreds of ports and airports, with some 100,000 personnel guarding them. Member states have a legitimate interest in controlling who is entering their territory, but border controls must ensure that people seeking asylum have access to the territory and to asylum procedures.

Immigration officials and border guards play an important role in international protection by identifying those in need of protection and admitting them to EU territory, as sending them back could amount to refoulement (forced return). As border guards are not qualified to decide who is a refugee, they need to refer all asylum-seekers to specialized authorities.

To ensure that border management is sensitive about the importance of protection, UNHCR closely cooperates with Frontex (European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union) through a liaison office in Warsaw. As Frontex promotes, coordinates and develops European border management in line with human rights standards, UNHCR provides advice and training for border officials. This enables them to identify people in need of protection, spot victims of trafficking and detect those with special needs.

Judicial Engagement

With the entry into force of the legal instruments of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), the Bureau for Europe is working on further cooperation with courts, lawyers and other providing legal support to asylum-seekers and refugees. The aim of these activities is to help ensure that the implementation of these instruments and the subsequent national legislation is in accordance with the international law, and in particular the 1951 Geneva Convention and its 1967 Protocol.

Practical Cooperation

Practical cooperation among European Union (EU) member states on a number of asylum issues is a key priority for the EU. The European Asylum Support Office (EASO), an independent EU agency, has been mandated to facilitate such practical cooperation among the different member states. It became operational in 2011.

UNHCR is a member of the EASO's management board, which takes decisions on EASO's work programme, priorities and other policy and operational issues. A formal working arrangement between the two organizations was foreseen under the asylum support office's founding regulations.

UNHCR maintains a liaison office with EASO in Malta to strengthen and coordinate cooperation. We offer our substantial expertise and knowledge of international refugee law and practice - as well as the asylum systems of the member states - to assist the EASO in its work. This includes, among other things, to promote a high quality in asylum decision-making throughout the European Union.


UNHCR works with many governments in European countries to improve and ensure the quality of asylum procedures and decisions. This work is based on UNHCR's mandate responsibilities contained in Article 35 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention), Article II of its 1967 Protocol and Article 8 of the 1950 UNHCR Statute.

The sea route to Europe: The Mediterranean passage in the age of refugees

Published 1 July 2015

Refugee ProtectionOperations

Protection of Syrians in the EU

UNHCR's paper for the Informal JHA Council, Vilnius, 18 July 2013

Refugee ProtectionOperations

Informal Meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, 9 July 2015

Remarks by António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Refugee ProtectionOperations

Proposal for a Central Mediterranean Sea Initiative

EU solidarity for rescue-at-sea, protection and comprehensive responses, 16 October 2013.

UNHCR Central Mediterranean Sea Initiative (CMSI)

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

Refugee ProtectionOperations

UNHCR Observations: Situation of Asylum in Bulgaria

January 2014

Refugee ProtectionOperations

The role of UNHCR in EU practical cooperation

Speech by Judith Kumin, Director, Bureau for Europe, October 2009.

Refugee ProtectionOperations