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Summing-up by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Consultations on the Arrivals of Asylum-seekers and Refugees in Europe, Geneva, 31 May 1985

Speeches and statements

Summing-up by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Consultations on the Arrivals of Asylum-seekers and Refugees in Europe, Geneva, 31 May 1985

31 May 1985
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We have come to the end of our meeting, and I shall try to sum up the outcome of these Consultations. As I have already indicated, in doing so I am expressing my own reflections on four days of discussions, which have been both interesting and complex.

Let me start by renewing my warm appreciation to all of you for having taken part in the Consultations and for the constructive spirit in which they have been conducted.

In my opening statement last Tuesday, I expressed the hope that our discussions would be frank and focus on practical measures that we can and must take. I believe that hope has been fulfilled, indeed, our talks have been valuable and fruitful. We have all gained in understanding of the problems as seen from our various view points.

We knew from the start, and I also said so in my opening statement, that these Consultations will not be a panacea in themselves. Indeed, our deliberations have clearly confirmed that, in the present complex situation, there are no miraculous cures - no magic solutions. But, as a result of these Consultations, we may now have a better idea of how, collectively, we have to proceed.

In fact, it has been clearly confirmed that in this situation, like in all other refugee situations, we have to work together. The problem is international in scope and has to be resolved through international co-operative efforts. UNHCR has an important role to play - and stands ready to play that role - as the international co-ordinator of action on behalf of refugees. But I wish to reiterate that no comprehensive solution can be found unless there is a will and determination of Governments within and also outside Europe. UNHCR cannot substitute for this. I am convinced that this will and determination exist and this was confirmed during the Consultations.

The meeting was entirely informal - which greatly facilitated our discussions - and could not therefore adopt any binding conclusions or guidelines. But the main points of the discussions can, I believe, be summarized as follows:

(a) There was unanimous recognition that in the field of asylum, the problems facing European countries today do not arise in regard to persons who were refugees as defined by the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the status of refugees. It was heartening to note the firm resolve of European Governments to live up to the humanitarian standards defined in the international refugee instruments. Difficulties have however arisen due to the increasing number of arrivals in Europe of persons who do not meet these definitions but who leave their countries of origin in order to escape from severe internal upheavals or armed conflicts. There was general agreement that such persons should be treated humanely and, in particular, should not be returned to areas where they may be exposed to danger. Such humane treatment could be provided within the framework of existing legal structures. These were considered adequate and there did not appear to be any need to revise the international refugee instruments.

(b) The special burden to which countries of first asylum are exposed due to the arrival of large numbers of asylum-seekers was fully recognized, as was the continuing need for international solidarity and burden sharing. European and other countries of the industralised world should continue to relieve the burden of countries of first asylum by all appropriate measures, including the provision of durable solutions, to assist in the regions. It was further felt that such durable solutions would be of particular importance because they would help to reduce the incentives for refugees to leave countries of asylum in the developing world by irregular means.

(c) There was also general recognition of the importance of addressing the root causes of refugee problems in the appropriate for a of the United Nations or by States acting individually or on a bilateral or multilateral basis.

(d) There was general recognition that asylum procedures should be accelerated to the maximum extent possible while, at the same time, maintaining essential guarantees in accordance with the established asylum traditions of European States. Such a speeding up of asylum procedures would be of benefit not only to the asylum-seeker but also to the host country.

(e) It was recognized that the problem of identifying the country responsible for examining an asylum request continues to give rise to difficulties for European States and also for refugees who might find themselves in an "orbit" situation. It was felt that this problem called for solution and that the initiative taken in this regard within the Council of Europe should be reactivated, possibly with a fresh approach.

(f) The High Commissioner and other speakers condemned the destruction of their travel documents by some refugees and asylum-seekers upon arrival in the country of destination. They also condemned the abusive commercial exploitation of asylum procedures. Moreover, the practice resorted to by some refugees of moving from one country of asylum to another with fraudulent documentation was deplored.

(g) The Consultations agreed on the importance of drawing public attention to the special situation of the refugee and the asylum-seeker as distinct from the ordinary foreigner. To this end, it was recognized that appropriate public relations efforts should be initiated.

(h) It was recognized that follow-up action on the outcome of the meeting should be the subject of Consultations among concerned governments in co-operation with UNHCR. Existing consultation arrangements (for example those within the Council of Europe) should be fully utilised. The need for informal ad hoc consultative arrangements among interested European Governments was furthermore recognized. Meetings could be called at the initiative of UNHCR or interested countries and should be held under the auspices of UNHCR. It was also necessary to envisage consultative arrangements at the global level comprising countries of transit, receiving countries, countries of origin and relevant U.N. bodies. In this regard, the High Commissioner might wish to consult further with participating countries.

I believe that we all need time to reflect further - both in Geneva and in the capitals - on the very useful discussions we have had on the issues and possible solutions to the problems. We for our part would now like to study the valuable comments made these last 4 days. I am sure participants would like to do the same. Based on further reflections and informal contacts with the governments represented here, I hope to be in a position to come up with ideas and plans for further action. In this process, I also hope to continue to benefit from your advice.

Geneva, 31 May, 1985