Preliminary Report on Suggestions Retained by the Working Group of Government Representatives on the Question of Rescue of Asylum-Seekers at Sea
EC/SCP/24

1. At the request of the Executive Committee, a Working Group of government representatives met from 5 to 7 July 1982 to study problems arising from the rescue, disembarkation and resettlement of asylum-seekers at sea. The Working Group retained various suggestions, which are reported in document EC/SCP/21. At the close of its debate, the Working Group felt that these suggestions should be the subject of a study to be carried out by UNHCR, as regards their feasibility and implications, which should submit a preliminary report on the matter to the Executive Committee at its thirty-third session.

2. Subsequently, UNHCR held informal consultations with the Governments of the coastal States most concerned, as well as with certain maritime States and countries of resettlement. From these consultations it became apparent that there remains a divergence of views on the subject between the coastal States on the one hand, and the maritime States and countries of resettlement on the other. The following paragraphs give a summary of the views of the various parties concerned.

3. With regard to the generally accepted principle, re-emphasized by the Working Group, that asylum-seekers rescued at sea should normally be disembarked at the next port of call, the Governments of the coastal States most concerned generally agreed with this view, provided that the port at which disembarkation is being sought is scheduled in the course of the ship's normal business,

4. Concerning the principle, endorsed by the Working Group, that, in cases of large-scale influx, asylum-seekers rescued at sea should always be admitted at least on a temporary basis, the Governments of all but one of the principal coastal States reiterated that resettlement guarantees should be provided prior to disembarkation.

5. As to the suggestion that countries of disembarkation might permit longer periods of stay on the basis of resettlement guarantees, the Governments of coastal States expressed continued reluctance to extend the period of stay beyond that currently authorized. Of primary concern to such governments is the possibility that longer periods of stay would result in a major build-up of the camp populations during peak months.

6. With regard to the suggestion that consideration be given to replacing and/or complementing present arrangements for disembarkation by a more comprehensive and general scheme, obviating the necessity for specific national guarantees, the Governments of the coastal States consulted did not give an indication of their willingness to modify their current policy of requiring a specific governmental commitment, While sympathetic to the desire of maritime States to share the resettlement burden with others, the prevailing feeling among coastal State Governments is that under a comprehensive scheme, not calling for a specific governmental commitment, it would be more difficult to ensure that resettlement offers are implemented.

7. The Working Group retained the suggestion that additional places should be made available to the Disembarkation Resettlement Offers (DISERO) scheme when the need arises, and that governments be invited and encouraged to participate. Consultations with some countries of resettlement have indicated support for this suggestion, although attention was drawn to legal and logistical constraints in providing blanket guarantees. The Office continues its efforts to encourage further contributions to and wider participation in the DISERO scheme.

8. Concerning the suggestion that the DISERO scheme be expanded to include a funding arrangement (DISERFO), it was felt by those consulted that this concept would need further elaboration. In this respect, it may be mentioned that funding arrangements already exist under which UNHCR reimburses, ship-owners for incidental expenditures incurred in connection with the disembarkation of refugees, not exceeding US$ 5,000 per ship, provided such claims are not recoverable from other sources.

9. In conclusion, the Governments consulted believe that the suggestions, retained by the Working Group, merit further consideration; and that further consultations between the Governments concerned and UNHCR would be necessary before a mutually-acceptable revised procedure for disembarkation can be agreed upon. The Sub-Committee of the Whole on international Protection may wish to offer further advice on this matter.