News Comment by UNHCR’s EU Representative on launch of Spanish Presidency of the European Union
BRUSSELS – As Spain prepares to take over the Presidency of the European Union (EU), UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is hopeful that it will build on the achievements of the outgoing Swedish Presidency in advancing the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum. This is vital to break years of deadlock on EU asylum matters that – the Ukraine refugee response aside – has put lives and rights in danger, with a dark shadow over the EU’s approach to asylum.
The tragic events at sea, and particularly unfolding across the Mediterranean, bring to the fore once more the urgent need for solidarity and safety at the heart of the EU’s action along migratory routes. With so many lives at stake, well resourced, coordinated, and predictable State-led rescue at sea, coupled with sustainable and coordinated asylum reform, including effective solidarity and a responsibility-sharing mechanism following disembarkation, are vital.
In this regard, steps made in June by EU Ministers to reach a Council position on sharing responsibility for asylum-seekers across the EU were significant, as was the agreement on the Council’s stance on processing asylum claims, including at the EU’s borders. Streamlined and efficient procedures on arrival are crucial for a functioning asylum system, and must be carried out in line with legal safeguards, even in times of emergency. Access to territory and asylum is a fundamental human right which must be fully respected.
While the legislation is still to be put in place, working hand in hand with the European Parliament, the Spanish Presidency has a pivotal role in ensuring political agreement is translated into prompt action, and in taking forward the work on the Pact as a whole. The reform that is in reach should not be undermined by any further EU proposals that could downgrade asylum obligations, standards, and practices.
In the current global context, there is no single solution to prevent and respond to forced displacement. With a range of actors working together in the spirit of the Global Compact on Refugees, ensuring access to international protection where needed, and sharing responsibility for displaced people in an effective way is possible. The Global Refugee Forum in December this year is an opportunity to progress in this regard.
It is important to highlight that the vast majority of the world’s refugees and other people in need of international protection are still hosted in low- and middle-income countries and not in Europe. Further EU political and financial support to the countries and regions where most forcibly displaced people are hosted, including fair and efficient protection regimes in all countries, swifter access to family reunification, increased resettlement, and complementary pathways, remains essential. Such support must never substitute but should complement access to asylum in Europe. UNHCR also calls on the Presidency to ensure commitments towards unearmarked predictable funding are implemented.
As we saw in the response to Ukraine, the EU can welcome and protect forcibly displaced people in an organized and effective way. An urgent, long-term overhaul of the EU’s overall approach to migration and asylum is however needed to ensure a common asylum system that works for States and better protects refugees, no matter where they are from.