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UNHCR welcomes asylum safeguards in EU Mediterranean proposals

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UNHCR welcomes asylum safeguards in EU Mediterranean proposals

30 November 2006

Geneva, Thursday 30 November 2006

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has welcomed proposals from the European Commission which recognize that asylum must be a key part of any measures to control migration, including along Europe's southern borders.

The proposals, published today in an EC communication on Reinforcing the Management of the Southern Maritime External Borders of the EU, respond to calls from European Union Member States for measures to strengthen their capacity to prevent and manage what they describe as "migration crisis situations." The EC also issued a further communication entitled "The Global Approach to Migration, One Year On." The paper, which summarizes progress in 2006 in EU efforts to deal with migration challenges, also highlights the vital need for the EU to maintain asylum and protection as major elements in its collaboration with third countries on migration.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres welcomed the Commission's recognition that asylum must be an important feature of the EU's border and migration management strategies.

"Fortifying borders alone is not the answer to Europe's migration challenges," Guterres said. "Effective migration management must also include safeguards for the many people in need of international protection who arrive at EU borders."

He also noted that refugee protection concerns do not apply to the Mediterranean coast alone.

"Protection challenges arise at the EU's other frontiers, particularly to the east; new strategies and tools must respond also to needs along those external borders," he said.

The High Commissioner recalled that UNHCR recently issued a series of proposals to help governments identify refugees among groups of migrants, so that their international protection needs can be addressed. He said that states have a collective interest in honouring their voluntarily-assumed protection responsibilities.

UNHCR's plan of action underlines the need for states to include the necessary provisions to detect people who need protection as soon as they come into contact with the authorities.

"The Commission's new proposals, if developed further in a way which is consistent with states' protection commitments, could meet this goal," Guterres said.

UNHCR confirmed its willingness to participate in developing the ideas presented in the EC communication, including the concept of 'asylum expert teams' to help EU states facing strains on their capacity to receive and respond to arrivals.

The UN refugee agency also welcomed the opportunity to contribute in a more structured way to the activities of the External Borders Management Agency ('Frontex'). This could include establishing contact points, training, coordination and other steps to ensure access to asylum determination processes and effective protection in the European Union to those entitled to it.

EU Ministers for Justice and Home Affairs will receive the new EC border and migration management proposals at their meeting in Brussels on 5-6 December. UNHCR is encouraging EU states to study these proposals and develop them into practical measures, in full respect of international and EU obligations towards refugees and other people in need of protection.