UN refugee agency launches dialogue on asylum and migration

11 December 2007 –

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today convened an international meeting with the goal of better ensuring the protection of the 10 million refugees around the world.

“Human mobility is growing in scale, scope and complexity,” António Guterres said at the start of the two-day UNHCR-sponsored event.

“New patterns of movement are emerging, including forms of displacement and forced migration that are not addressed by international refugee law. States around the globe are expressing concern about the impact of these developments on their economy, their security and their social cohesion.”

Refugees constitute only a small percentage of the 200 million or more people living outside their countries, but the High Commissioner said that refugees are increasingly “to be found in mixed movements, travelling in the same directions, using the same routes and means of transport as migrants.”

While refugees escaping violence seek the international protection they deserve, governments – which are dealing with issues of migration – must be able to distinguish between those who are forced to flee and those who choose to move for economic or other reasons, he noted.

The conference, entitled “Dialogue on Protection Challenges,” is the first in a series to give governments an informal forum in which to discuss the major asylum and refugee-related challenges they face.

Although UNHCR does not focus on migration, it nonetheless has great bearing on the agency’s work.

“By creating a global environment in which migrant rights are respected, we will also be creating an environment in which UNHCR can more effectively exercise its mandate for refugee protection and solutions,” Mr. Guterres said.

He urged States to balance effective controlling their borders while providing opportunities for legal migration.

“In an environment where irregular migration prevails, human traffickers and smugglers are bound to appear,” the High Commissioner said. “Irregular migration can only be curtailed if people who want to move are given the chance to do so in a safe and legal manner.”

Before the start of today’s session, he called for a minute of silence for the victims of the deadly blasts which rocked Algiers, Algeria, and left dozens dead, including two UNHCR staff members.

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