French Minister meets with High Commissioner regarding mixed migration

Briefing Notes, 18 September 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 18 September 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

During a meeting with French Minister for Immigration Eric Besson yesterday, 18 September, in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres said he hoped that appropriate measures will be taken to assure the protection of asylum seekers and unaccompanied children during the public action to take place in the northern French city of Calais in the course of the next week. This was expressed following Mr. Besson's announcement earlier in the week that French authorities will close down the various makeshift settlements in and around Calais known as the 'jungle' where several hundred undocumented foreigners are waiting in the hope to cross into the UK.

The High Commissioner recognized the challenges posed by irregular migration, and the strain which the network of smugglers and traffickers poses on the Calais region. He further recognized the right of the French Government to maintain law and order. However, he noted that among the irregular migrants in the region there are persons in need of international protection, and noted the protection needs of these individuals, particularly the large number of unaccompanied children.

UNHCR was encouraged by France's commitment to ensure that the situation of each individual is carefully examined and appropriate solutions found. This should include access to full and fair asylum procedures and the option of assisted voluntary return. It was recognized that many of the people present in the Calais area come from countries affected by war and insecurity such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia and the protection needs of such persons should be carefully considered. The High Commissioner encouraged France to provide accommodation to all asylum seekers, as well as unaccompanied children.

The High Commissioner noted that there is a need for a true European asylum space with consistent rules and procedures. He described the current system as 'asylum à la carte'. In view of the current disparities, he appealed for a flexible implementation of the Dublin II Regulation, which states that asylum claims should normally be decided in the first country where the applicant entered the EU. He reiterated UNHCR's views that asylum-seekers should not be returned to Greece, in view of deficiencies in the system there.

UNHCR is present in Calais providing information and counselling undocumented foreigners about claiming asylum in France and other options, such as voluntary return to their home country. Together with other organizations, UNHCR aims at helping the migrants to make an informed decision about their future.