Lubbers offers new approaches on asylum-migration issue
28 March 2003
VERIA, Greece - U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers said Friday that the European Union must develop a unified internal approach along with new global strategies if it is to effectively address the politically charged issues of asylum and migration.
Speaking to an informal meeting of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council in Veria, Greece, Lubbers said member states had to work with each other as well as with the developing countries hosting the bulk of the world's refugees.
"I would say that Europe has no choice but to work on both fronts if it is to effectively address both the phenomenon of irregular movements of asylum seekers to Europe and the phenomenon of economic migrants clogging up its asylum systems," he said.
Lubbers proposed a three-pronged strategy. The first would focus on new approaches in regions of origin to boost prospects for refugee solutions there, and to address so-called secondary movements of refugees and asylum seekers toward Europe. Lubbers said the aim would be to strengthen the capacities of first countries of asylum to protect and assist refugees so they would not feel compelled to move onwards toward Europe, as well as to help find lasting solutions. This would include not only registration of refugees, but also self-reliance activities paving the way toward repatriation, integration in the region or resettlement abroad.
Lubbers said his 2002 "Convention Plus" initiative, which calls for new special agreements to complement the 1951 Convention on refugees, could be used to develop comprehensive plans for regional solutions, including the return of specific caseloads. Such agreements could include the targeting of additional development assistance to countries hosting large refugee populations for protracted periods.
"To support these countries, I have proposed a concept which I call 'Development Assistance for Refugees' (DAR). It is about development assistance both for host communities and for refugees," he said. "This brings together the '4Rs' initiative [for an integrated approach to repatriation, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction] and the 'DLI' initiative [Development Through Local Integration]. By the same token, resettlement - on a much bigger scale than today - must be part and parcel of any comprehensive approach."
A second prong would focus on new joint initiatives within Europe itself. These could include the pooling of EU processing and reception resources so that decisions could be made more quickly on the asylum claims of nationals of countries that do not normally produce refugees. Lubbers said UNHCR was ready to consider more such "safe" situations, wherever there is a clear indication that flows are overwhelmingly composed of persons without valid claims for international protection.
"For caseloads composed primarily of economic migrants, we foresee a model involving closed reception centres, the processing of claims by EU teams ... and simplified appeals with UNHCR participation," Lubbers said. "Such an approach could have a dynamic impact on your [asylum] harmonisation process. Is it not time to move ahead with this?"
After joint processing, those found in need of protection should be granted asylum in one of the EU countries, taking into consideration their needs, skills, family connections and other links, such as language. For those not found in need of protection, collective EU action should be taken to ensure they are returned promptly to their countries of origin.
Since national asylum systems would continue to process claims from refugee-producing countries, a European advisory board that would include UNHCR could also be established to help eliminate the "current divergences in national [asylum] practices," he said.
The third prong, Lubbers said, focused on the effective functioning of Europe's individual national asylum systems. If the EU and regional prongs were successful, he said, national asylum systems would be able to focus more on the functions for which they were created - the provision of international protection to those in need.