UNHCR clarifies its new asylum proposals
GENEVA, June 20 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency today attempted to clarify its position on ways to improve the protection of refugees in their regions of origin, dispelling misinterpretations that had sprung up in the run-up to the European Union Summit near Thessaloniki in Greece.
At a news conference in Geneva on Friday, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said that while the agency agrees with many of the government proposals at Thessaloniki, it never endorsed the idea of "zones of protection", as had been previously reported.
"We're not sure what this concept means exactly," said Janowski, adding that UNHCR is "primarily concerned with making more concerted and imaginative efforts to grapple with specific situations in refugees' regions of origin, not with creating some sort of new geographical or physical entities."
"We are very interested indeed in working with states to build more effective protection in asylum countries neighbouring the refugees' own countries," he explained. "There needs to be a much greater effort to find solutions for refugees while they are still in their regions of origin, so that they don't lose hope and feel the need to keep on moving in search of security and reasonable living conditions."
One result of this approach is that fewer refugees may feel the need to move further afield, to Europe and elsewhere. However, Janowski clarified, UNHCR is keen to "remove the pressures on them to move, not to somehow contain them."
Also on Friday, UNHCR released an editorial by High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers explaining the agency's current suggestions for ways to improve protection of refugees in their regions of origin, and also for possible actions in the context of the EU and in individual domestic asylum systems.