Lubbers proposes "convention plus" approach
13 Sept. 2002
GENEVA - U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers on Friday unveiled several proposals aimed at helping governments tackle a variety of current migration challenges, ranging from "asylum shopping" and human smuggling to providing solutions in regions of origin.
Addressing a meeting of the European Union Justice and Home Affairs Council in Copenhagen, Lubbers also suggested some new agreements that could "supplement" the 1951 Refugee Convention, the cornerstone of international refugee protection.
Reiterating UNHCR's desire to work with governments in finding solutions for refugees, Lubbers proposed a number of measures, both specific and general, including:
- New mechanisms aimed at providing protection nearer to the origin of refugee movements. This could include opportunities for those in need of protection to make asylum visa applications at embassies in their home countries or regions.
- UNHCR support for finding a common, EU-wide interpretation of the definition of a refugee which includes recognition that persecution could be inflicted by non-state agents and accommodates the notion of gender-based persecution.
- Creation of an EU-wide advisory body to monitor the jurisprudence of national refugee status determination bodies.
- Establishment of an efficient system for providing governments with up-to-date information on countries of origin.
- UNHCR support in identifying specific groups of asylum seekers for whom simplified, accelerated appeal procedures could be applied.
- Use of tripartite agreements between UNHCR, the host country and the country of origin to better facilitate returns, including of those persons found not to be in need of international protection.
On a broader level, Lubbers also called for a new approach - which he termed "Convention Plus" - involving "a number of special agreements aimed at managing the challenges of today and tomorrow in a spirit of international cooperation."
While stressing the continuing centrality and validity of the 1951 Refugee Convention - a status reaffirmed in Geneva last December by states parties to the instrument - Lubbers said it had also "become clear that the Convention alone does not suffice."
"A major concern today is the issue of secondary movements of refugees and asylum seekers," the High Commissioner said, referring to those who had already reached a first country of asylum but then decided to move on. "I am convinced that the international community needs new agreements to deal with cross-cutting issues such as this. These new agreements would supplement the Convention and form part of multilateral frameworks for protecting refugees and achieving durable solutions, primarily in regions of origin."
He said the ultimate goal of such agreements would be to build an effective system of international burden sharing that would also enable refugees to find adequate protection or assistance as close to home as possible.
"In the case of secondary movements, a special agreement could be drawn up to define the roles and responsibilities of countries of origin, transit and potential destination, with regard to potential asylum seekers," he said.
Other special agreements could deal with massive refugee movements, resettlement and post-conflict reintegration and reconstruction, he said.
Focusing on the need to address conditions in regions of origin, Lubbers urged those attending the EU meeting to convince their governments to channel development funds toward programmes that also benefit refugees in developing countries and which facilitate their repatriation or assimilation.
"With a greater emphasis on ensuring lasting solutions in regions of origin, the numbers of refugees requiring settlement in European countries will be lower, and the need to integrate these people into your societies will be easier to explain to your citizens," he said. "Above all, the problem of refugees falling into the hands of human smugglers and traffickers will diminish, and refugee movements will no longer fuel criminal networks in the way they do today."