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UNHCR calls on EuroMed countries to ensure refugee protection

Briefing notes

UNHCR calls on EuroMed countries to ensure refugee protection

25 November 2005

Next week, 27 and 28 November, leaders of 35 European and Southern Mediterranean countries will meet in Barcelona to mark the tenth anniversary of the launching of the Barcelona Process, a wide framework of political, economic and social relations between the 25 Member States of the European Union and ten Mediterranean Partners. They are expected to adopt a work plan designed to provide the basis for European-Mediterranean cooperation for the next five years

UNHCR welcomes this important and ambitious process which has laid the foundations of a regional partnership across the Mediterranean Sea which, among other issues, includes cooperation on population movements.

Further work in this area is particularly necessary in view of the tragic deaths of hundreds of people who drown every year trying to reach Europe through irregular means. This situation has now reached the proportions of a major humanitarian crisis and requires urgent action from all the countries concerned. Preventing further loss of life needs to be a clear priority in the framework of the EuroMed partnership.

Among those caught up in irregular movements by land or by sea, there are people looking for better economic prospects, but also people fleeing persecution, conflict or indiscriminate violence. They need protection and states have a legal and moral responsibility to provide it.

The question is how to ensure that those seeking asylum have an effective access to fair and efficient determination procedures, even if they arrive together with people migrating for other reasons.

We call on the countries engaged in the Barcelona Process to strengthen their commitments to ensure the right to seek and enjoy asylum and the principles of international protection based on the full and inclusive application of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and other relevant treaties such as the 1969 OAU Convention on refugees.

In particular, the principle of "non-refoulement", which prohibits states sending people back to territories where their life or freedom are threatened, needs to be respected. To fulfil their international obligations, states need to ensure that those in need of international protection are not included in any returns of irregular migrants to their countries of origin.

UNHCR encourages EuroMed countries to make a specific reference to the principles of international protection in their work plan.