UNHCR notes EU decision, calls for more focus on causes of mass displacement

EU leaders agreed to relocate 40,000 people in need of international protection who have arrived in Greece and Italy to other EU states over the next two years.

Afghan refugees in front of the abandoned hotel Captain Elias in Kos where hundreds of refugees and migrants are waiting for their registration.   © UNHCR/J.Akkash

GENEVA, June 26 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has followed the agreement of European Union leaders to relocate 40,000 people in need of international protection and to resettle 20,000 refugees with a call for much more to be done to end the global crisis forcing record numbers of people to flee their homes.

"This is an important step along the way to finding answers to this crisis, but clearly much more will have to be done, including addressing root causes," UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told a press briefing in Geneva on Friday.

"It is essential that states work together to find answers, and that Europe shows leadership and vision in addressing the challenges of protecting the thousands of refugees," he added.

At late-night talks in Brussels on Thursday, EU leaders agreed to relocate 40,000 people in dire need of international protection who have arrived in Greece and Italy to other EU states over the next two years.

UNHCR says the participation of all Member States will be the key to the success of the initiative and reiterated its readiness to collaborate with EU member states and institutions on these and other measures in support of those needing international protection.

"These measures will need to be expanded to address current needs, and the fact that an increased proportion of sea arrivals are now taking place in Greece. This initiative can help to alleviate some pressure on Italy and Greece, but also needs to be accompanied by a better functioning of the Dublin system," Edwards added.

The Dublin System aims to determine rapidly the Member State responsible [for an asylum claim] and provides for the transfer of an asylum seeker to that Member State. Usually, the responsible Member State will be the state through which the asylum seeker first entered the EU.

On the specific proposal for EU-wide resettlement of 20,000 refugees, UNHCR urged EU states to make concrete commitments towards the goal beyond existing resettlement quotas.

"We are also calling on Member States to offer other legal avenues for people in need of international protection - including a more effective, timely and consistent application of family reunification procedures, as put forward in the Commission's European Agenda on Migration," Edwards said.

He added that providing realistic and substantial alternative channels for people to reach safety would also be a way to support international efforts to combat smuggling and trafficking.

UNHCR maintains it has long recognised the importance of return programmes for people not in need of international protection to preserve the integrity of asylum systems and, in this regard, notes that such policies should be implemented in line with fundamental rights and the principle of non-refoulement (forced returns).

"Through more targeted assistance, including development initiatives, the resilience and self-reliance of refugees and internally displaced populations could be strengthened, allowing them to live their lives with hope and dignity," Edwards added.

In addition the agency has stressed that major humanitarian operations, such as Syria and Central African Republic, are seriously underfunded.

UNHCR's Global Trends Report: World at War, issued at the end of May, (available at http://unhcr.org/556725e69.html) showed worldwide displacement was at the highest level ever recorded.

The report said the number of people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 as a result of war, conflict and persecution had risen to a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago.