Remarks by Mr. António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the occasion of the European Union Council of Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs, Luxembourg, 12 October 2005
I am very pleased to be here today and would like to assure you of my interest in working together to improve refugee protection around the world.
Regional Protection Programmes
I welcome the European Commission's recent Communication on Regional Protection Programmes (RPP), and the commitment of the Commission and Council to improving refugee protection capacity and durable solutions. These are indeed UNHCR's raison d'être and therefore we offer our full support and are ready to cooperate in the identification of target regions and in programme implementation, including resettlement.
However, it is important to ensure the full coordination of these Programmes with other initiatives, and especially to ensure consultation with the countries concerned. They must be fully-fledged owners of these Programmes and they must see the benefits - otherwise the Programmes will fail. By "full coordination", I mean with other initiatives which work in the same direction. I see a clear linkage, for instance, between your proposed RPP in the Western NIS and the existing Søderkøping process. It will be important to avoid parallel tracks and the confusion this can cause.
The proposed pilot Regional Protection Programmes constitute a first step. The budget is small and the budgetary methodology is complex. Both of these facts are further reasons for coordination, while hoping for expansion in future of the funds available as well as greater flexibility in the budgetary approach. I urge you in particular to profit from synergies with ongoing actions in the humanitarian and development sectors. The gap between humanitarian relief and development needs to be bridged, and we must ensure that development programmes take refugees and internally displaced people into account. This is one of the many reasons why it is very good that the Commission is meeting today in Brussels with the African Union, and embarking on a new EU strategy for relations with Africa.
I also welcome the resettlement component of the RPPs. Resettlement is a priority for us. We see resettlement playing an increasingly important role in the panoply of durable solutions.
We see resettlement playing an increasingly important role in the panoply of durable solutions.
Of course, building protection capacity in third countries cannot replace asylum in Europe. If third countries perceive this to be your goal, the Regional Protection Programmes will not succeed.
Let me outline for you the three principal challenges which, as High Commissioner, I believe we must face today. The first is rising intolerance. Second, there is the difficulty of protecting refugees within complex migratory flows. And third, we must address the gap between relief and development, and the fact that development often simply does not work - in other words, it is often is not sustainable.
Rising intolerance and refugee protection
As High Commissioner, I see rising intolerance toward foreigners as a particularly crucial issue. In fact, I see this intolerance as an attack on universal values, on rational political and social behaviour. We must fight this phenomenon, all together: governments, institutions, civil society. For me, this is an essential battle for the cohesion of our multicultural societies, which can only work on a foundation of tolerance.
Instead, we see increasing populism. The populist approach confuses everything: security issues, migration and asylum. Fighting terrorism is of course essential, but refugees are not terrorists - they are the first victims of insecurity. Someone seeking to commit a terrorist act would be foolish to ask for asylum: he would be scrutinized, perhaps jailed.
We must preserve asylum as a democratic value. In this connection, let me say that I have some concerns about the asylum process in Europe and the legislation. The deadline for transposition of the first two asylum Directives (Temporary Protection and Reception Conditions has passed; the deadline for transposing the Qualification Directive is coming up soon. We are worried that transposition of these instruments is uneven, incomplete. As to the Asylum Procedures Directive, we are concerned that the way it is applied risks downgrading standards. If the result is that everyone opts for the minimum common denominator, this can send a very negative message to the very countries whose capacity we seek to build.
We are also closely studying the practice with the Dublin II Regulation and will present a study on this in November 2005. We will also soon give you our comments on the Draft Directive on Minimum Standards for Returns.
I welcome the fact that a Communication is forthcoming on practical cooperation in the asylum area, as this is a way to improve the quality of protection. We are ready to help you with this, for instance in the areas of country of origin information, training and finding ways for States to deal with particular pressures.
Today, we are faced with the challenge of complex population flows. Two principles are at stake. On the one hand, States have the sovereign right to manage and control their borders. This is undisputed and border control is not within our mandate. But in these flows, there may be - and generally are - persons who are in need of protection.
The other principle is the obligation to respect each individual's basic rights, including the right to be treated humanely, to be shown respect for human life and human dignity, whether or not one is a refugee. This is not necessarily the case, and this fact is of concern to all of us. In the last few weeks we have seen terrible images - which we should not have to see - from North Africa, the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Aden.
UNHCR is ready to assist States to identify those in need of refugee protection and also to identify victims of trafficking and other humanitarian cases. We are ready to work with States to find solutions.
Of course, there are things we cannot live with - fraud is one of these. But we cannot accept refoulement, we cannot accept that people's lives are put at risk. And we hope for strong messages from the European Union on this. It is indeed important to support non-EU Mediterranean countries with border management. But it is also important to help them to build the capacity to protect refugees. Unfortunately, we see a lot of resistance from States in this regard. The governments must understand that we want to develop their capacity to protect refugees because we see them as partners in a global context.
The development gap
Let me also say that even with the best border management in the world, we will not be able to solve this problem without tackling its roots. If we just look at Africa north of the equator - without even looking further south - we can see that whole economies have been destroyed. Cotton production is a good example: Mali's cotton producers cannot compete on world markets because of subsidies offered to farmers by rich countries. The situation in Sudan is worse today than even one month ago. From the northern part of the Central African Republic, refugees are flowing into Chad by the tens of thousands, and Chad already hosts 200,000 refugees from Darfur. The situation in Côte d'Ivoire is unstable, on the verge of renewed conflict. There are millions of uprooted, jobless Africans with nowhere to go but north.
This is not a problem of border management. And I truly believe that only the European Union can lead a coordinated effort to address these root causes. We must tackle conflict prevention and solutions, as well as governance issues. Africa needs economic aid, debt relief and access to trade. If we don't reverse the current trend, no Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers will find a solution - certainly not one which abides by our basic principles.
Solving this problem will not be easy. Many think it is not possible. I think it is. This is one of the reasons why I support your Regional Protection Programme concept. Although the pilot programme itself is small, it is a start. I hope that you will find the way to do much, much more.
1. COM (2005) 388 Final.
2. Council Directive 2001/55/EC of 20 July 2001 on minimum standards for giving temporary protection in the event of a mass influx or displaced persons and on measures promoting a balance of efforts between Member States in receiving such persons and bearing the consequences thereof.
3. Council Directive 2003/9/EC of 27 January 2003 laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum-seekers.
4. Council Directive 2004/83/EC of 29 April 2004 on minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals or stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection and the content of the protection granted.
5. Proposal for a Council Directive on minimum standards on procedures in Member States for granting and withdrawing refugee status (Council Document 14203/04, Asile 64, of 9 November 2004).