UNHCR: Transfer arrangements of asylum seekers and refugees must respect international refugee law
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is not a party to or involved in the Italy-Albania agreement, which was announced on Monday. UNHCR was not informed about or consulted on the contents of the agreement or its details. We are currently seeking further information from the relevant authorities.
UNHCR's longstanding position is that returns or transfers to safe third countries may only be considered appropriate if certain standards are met – in particular, that those countries fully respect the rights arising from the Refugee Convention and human rights obligations, and if the agreement helps share the responsibility for refugees equitably among nations, rather than shifting it.
Under international refugee law, the primary responsibility for assessing asylum claims and affording international protection rests with the State in which an asylum-seeker arrives, whether at land borders or at sea, and seeks that protection. This obligation remains unaltered by the transfer of asylum-seekers or extraterritorial processing. While legal transfer arrangements on asylum cooperation may be made between States, such measures must ensure and enhance refugee protection.
UNHCR has continuously been calling for action to address the desperate situation in the Mediterranean, and to ensure solidarity, in particular with the most affected States. UNHCR recognizes the challenges posed by increasing mixed movements and stands ready to work with States on lawful measures to respond more effectively to arrivals, based on responsibility-sharing and in accordance with international standards, in the spirit of international cooperation, with adequate safeguards and guarantees to ensure respect for rights.
UNHCR is seeking to discuss further the details with the Italian and Albanian Governments to better understand the implications for refugees and other people in need of international protection.
For further information regarding UNHCR’s views of transfer arrangements between states, see:
- UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Guidance Note on bilateral and/or multilateral transfer arrangements of asylum-seekers, May 2013, available at:
- UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNHCR Note on the "Externalization" of International Protection, 28 May 2021, available at:
For more information on this topic, please contact:
- Federico Fossi, [email protected] +39 349 084 3461
- Filippo Ungaro, [email protected], +39 3356794746