Lubbers asks EU to uphold refugee protection standards
1 October 2004
GENEVA - UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers today urged European justice and home affairs ministers to reaffirm the European Union's commitment to refugee protection, both within the EU and beyond.
Speaking by video conference to ministers attending the informal Justice and Home Affairs Council in Scheveningen, the Netherlands, Lubbers presented UNHCR's recommendations for the coming EU multiannual programme in the area of freedom, justice and security. He noted that Europe is now moving into the second phase of building a common asylum system and appealed to member states not to align their policies with the lowest standards allowed by the EU asylum directives agreed during the first 5-year phase. Instead, he asked them to devote the necessary resources to ensuring the highest possible quality of refugee protection.
Lubbers also called for a much more coordinated approach to asylum and urged the ministers to build a truly European space for refugees, rather than a series of national spaces. He noted that while asylum claims have declined sharply in the EU as a whole and in the industrialized countries generally, they are rising in many of the new EU states, where help is needed in coping with the numbers.
The High Commissioner also appealed to the ministers to do more to build the capacity of countries outside the EU to protect refugees, and to work more energetically to find durable solutions for refugees. In addition to providing better protection in refugees' home regions, he said it is time for a European Union resettlement programme to be set up.
On the question of how to handle migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe across the Mediterranean Sea, Lubbers said that people who have reached Europe and ask for refugee protection should have their claims heard in Europe. Workable, rights-based approaches need to be developed in the event that individuals are intercepted en route to Europe. These approaches should include a fair process, involving international monitoring, to identify refugees and to find durable solutions for them. There have to be credible alternatives to a dangerous sea crossing and information about these alternatives needs to be available.
Lubbers stressed the need for much more cooperation and dialogue between Europe and the affected transit countries in North Africa and the Middle East, and appealed to Ministers to avoid a Eurocentric approach.