UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is calling on the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU), and the Czech Republic which will assume the Presidency in July, to prioritise the better protection of refugees in Europe and globally.
While many EU countries remain committed to European and international human rights and refugee laws and principles, in 2021, violent pushbacks of asylum seekers at EU’s borders continued. These practices endanger lives and undermine fundamental human rights, including the right to seek asylum.
Increasing xenophobic political narratives, physical and legislative barriers to accessing territory for the purpose of seeking asylum in the EU have continued to erode the rights of people fleeing war, conflict and persecution.
“The right to seek asylum is a fundamental human right. It must be preserved, especially in extraordinary situations or times of emergency,” said Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, UNHCR’s Representative for EU Affairs. “The EU is a Union based on the rule of law, but we have too often seen divisive and politicized positions and practices that seek to evade asylum obligations. Mixed movements of refugees and migrants pose challenges to asylum systems. However, these challenges never justify responses that run counter to international law and negate asylum obligations.”
The European Commission’s proposed Pact on Migration and Asylum presented in September 2020 offers an opportunity to move from an ad hoc crisis-driven approach to asylum and migration in the EU to a common one that is more comprehensive, well-managed and predictable, both within and beyond the Union. Progress on ending pushbacks, the establishment of Independent National Monitoring Mechanisms to investigate them, and measures to enhance search and rescue and ensure predictable disembarkation of those rescued at sea is urgently needed. With manageable numbers of new arrivals of refugees and migrants to Europe, now is the time for common action.
UNHCR urges the Presidencies to promote sustainable asylum reform and achieve progress on key issues such as intra EU solidarity, adequate reception conditions as well as fair and fast asylum procedures to quickly determine who needs international protection and who does not, in line with legal safeguards. Dignified returns for people wishing to go back to their countries of origin or who are found not to be in need of international protection are equally crucial for a credible and well-managed system.
In the absence of consensus on a common EU asylum framework, UNHCR is concerned that further detrimental practices including proposals to externalize or outsource asylum obligations to other countries will ensue. Such efforts would run counter to the spirit of the Refugee Convention and the Global Compact on Refugees, thus undermining refugee protection.
“At a time when the number of forcibly displaced people in the world is at an all-time high, when humanitarian needs are increasing, and crucially, when numbers of arrivals to the EU remain manageable, it is essential for the EU to recommit to solidarity – towards people, between states and with countries that host the majority of refugees,” said Vargas Llosa. “No matter how high barriers – physical and legislative – may be, desperate people will seek ways to reach safety. Managing borders, sharing responsibility and respecting human rights are compatible”.
With nearly 90 per cent of refugees living in low and middle-income countries, UNHCR encourages the Presidencies to strengthen global solidarity by providing more support to the countries and regions where most forcibly displaced people are.
UNHCR remains ready to support the EU Presidencies, EU Institutions and Member States to better protect refugees in the EU and globally.