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UNHCR announces proposals to enhance the security of asylum seekers

UNHCR announces proposals to enhance the security of asylum seekers

The U.N. refugee agency suggests a series of specific proposals to governments reviewing asylum systems after the September attacks in the United States.
6 December 2001
UK: HM immigration officers searching trucks for illegal immigrants at Dover docks, Kent, May 2001.

GENEVA, Dec. 5 (UNHCR) - The U.N. refugee agency Thursday outlined a set of specific proposals to governments reviewing their asylum systems and national security in the wake of the September terrorist attacks in the United States.

"Appropriate mechanisms need to be put in place in the field of asylum as in other areas," the agency said in a statement, but it emphasized that new legislation should not victimize innocent civilians seeking refuge and said that current refugee instruments already excluded terrorists from the international asylum process.

UNHCR said it has circulated a number of suggestions to governments to help them identify and deal with terrorists trying to enter a country via the asylum system including:

  • enhancing cooperation between border guards, intelligence services and immigration and asylum authorities, as well as with organizations such as Interpol. If extra security checks such as fingerprinting were adopted, they should not slow down asylum procedures or discriminate on the basis of national, religious or racial characteristics.
  • So-called 'exclusion clauses' in the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention should be implemented rigorously, but with extreme care against suspect claimants. States that have not already done so, should incorporate these clauses into their national legislation.
  • Specialised 'exclusion units' with expertise in refugee and criminal law, knowledge of terrorist organisations and communication links with intelligence services and criminal enforcement agencies, could be formed to deal rapidly with cases in which asylum-seekers were suspected of terrorism or serious crimes.
  • the use of detention - but with clear legal safeguards - for any asylum seeker strongly suspected of being involved in terrorism.

The agency said it had tried to clarify the circumstances under which the cancellation of refugee status, expulsion and extradition are permitted under international refugee law. It emphasised that because of the life threatening consequences of an incorrect decision, such measures should not be resorted to "on the mere assumption" that an asylum-seeker or refugee could be involved in terrorism.

In having a claim processed, an asylum-seeker already undergoes more stringent scrutiny than most other travellers such as businessmen or tourists, the agency pointed out.

It added that "International refugee instruments do not provide a safe haven to terrorists and do not protect them from criminal prosecution. On the contrary, they render the identification of persons engaged in terrorist activities possible and necessary, foresee their exclusion from refugee status and do not shield them against either criminal prosecution or expulsion."