UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is urging Sweden and Spain to use their 2023 European Union (EU) Presidencies to set a course for an EU that truly protects forcibly displaced people.
In a paper released today, UNHCR outlined simple but effective actions for EU countries to take that work for both States and for people fleeing war and persecution. UNHCR’s Recommendations for the Swedish and Spanish Presidencies of the Council of the EU provide a practical roadmap, drawing on best practices from 2022.
“The humanitarian spirit and solidarity shown by EU countries last year towards refugees from Ukraine clearly demonstrates Europe’s capacity to welcome and protect forcibly displaced people in an organized and effective way,” said Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, UNHCR’s EU Representative. “UNHCR is urging this year’s EU Presidencies to build on this good practice and stand in solidarity with all refugees and asylum-seekers, wherever they may come from.”
The path towards a Union that better protects refugees is based on the agreement and implementation of the draft EU Pact on Migration and Asylum and is contingent on all EU States fully upholding the right to seek asylum. The Pact as a whole represents an opportunity to secure a comprehensive, well-managed and predictable approach to asylum and migration in the EU.
UNHCR strongly advises against undermining this potential reform through any further EU proposals that risk downgrading asylum obligations, standards and practices and shrinking protection space in Europe. UNHCR recommends that the incoming Presidencies focus on ensuring access to fair and efficient asylum procedures, as well as creating functioning solidarity and responsibility-sharing mechanisms without resorting to derogations.
While many EU countries continue to support refugees and uphold European and international human rights commitments, violent pushbacks and serious human rights violations continue at EU borders. These violations endanger lives and undermine human rights, including access to asylum as well as the right to life. Ensuring access to territory and asylum and addressing human rights violations at borders are key components of a fair and sustainable EU asylum system.
UNHCR’s proposed measures would ensure efficient and fair asylum procedures to determine those in need of international protection, including in times of crisis and taking into account the additional protection risks for those with specific needs. These should be complemented by functioning solidarity measures to ensure sustainability.
The 2022 Solidarity Declaration provides a good basis for a predictable search and rescue and disembarkation mechanism that saves lives and responsibility-sharing among EU States. 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 functioning protection system.
Almost three-quarters of the world’s refugees and other people in need of international protection are living in low- and middle-income countries. UNHCR encourages the Presidencies to strengthen global solidarity and responsibility sharing in line with the Global Compact on Refugees by working with and providing more support to the countries and regions where most forcibly displaced people are hosted, including by increasing resettlement. Such support can however not substitute but must be complementary to access to asylum in Europe.
“The moment for a new vision for Europe’s engagement with refugees is now,” said Vargas Llosa. “Europe is stronger when it works together, as we saw last year. Let 2023 be the year when experience and political commitment translate into prompt and practical action and, ultimately, better protection in Europe for all people fleeing war, violence and persecution.”
UNHCR remains ready to support the EU Presidencies, Institutions and Member States to better protect refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless people in the EU and globally.