UNHCR chief calls on EU to harmonize asylum systems

News Stories, 28 March 2008

© UNHCR/M.Sunjic
High Commissioner Guterres (left) with Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel. Talks in Slovenia took place in a friendly and constructive atmosphere.

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia, March 28 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has stressed the need for a harmonized asylum system in European Union countries.

Guterres, meeting with senior Slovenian officials here on Wednesday, said current inconsistencies between national asylum systems compelled people to move around the EU in search of protection.

When up to 90 percent of Iraqis seeking asylum in Sweden are recognized and zero percent get protection in Greece, they will move accordingly, Guterres explained. The lack of a harmonized asylum system encouraged asylum seekers to disappear from one country and move on to another.

The High Commissioner noted that in the public opinion this search for protection was interpreted as an abuse of the system, adding that this was not the case.

Guterres called for swift harmonization, but he cautioned that the EU should not neglect the quality of the asylum system: "Europe has a common space and common borders, but the only thing that is common in the asylum system is a drift towards minimum standards," he said. In this regard, he called for improvements in the asylum system in Slovenia as well.

The High Commissioner said it was vital that people in need of protection had access to EU territory. He cited the Spanish Canary Islands in the Atlantic and Italy's Lampedusa Island in the Mediteranean as examples of "impeccable cooperation" between UNHCR, concerned governments and NGOs in managing difficult mixed population movements.

During his one-day visit, Guterres held talks with President Danilo Türk, Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, Interior Minister Dragutin Mate and National Assembly Vice-President Vasja Klavora, with whom he launched a Slovenian version of the Handbook for Parliamentarians on Statelessness and Nationality. He also met refugee NGOs and spoke with asylum seekers.

By Melita H. Sunjic in Ljubljana, Slovenia