European migration policies must not undermine refugee rights – UN official

A boat carrying asylum seekers and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo: UNHCR/L.Boldrini

2 June 2009 – The top United Nations refugee official has called on the European Union (EU) to ensure that migration control measures do not undermine fundamental rights of asylum-seekers and refugees.

High Commissioner António Guterres expressed concerns about the situation of people intercepted at sea in the Mediterranean and the responses of governments to this, including those of Italy, in a letter addressed to the Czech EU Presidency ahead of a meeting of the group’s Justice and Home Affairs Ministers later this week.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) voiced its concern last month after Italy sent over 200 people it rescued off Maltese waters back to Libya before properly assessing their possible protection needs.

Mr. Guterres called for EU support to Libya to improve the general conditions for asylum-seekers and refugees in the country, and appealed to EU Member States to admit those who appear to be in need of international protection.

“The High Commissioner is aware that some EU Member States, and particularly those located along the Mediterranean, face particular pressures from the arrival of asylum-seekers and refugees,” UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told a news conference in Geneva today.

He said the agency is prepared to support responsibility-sharing mechanisms within the EU, including some relocation of people found in need of international protection, when reception and asylum systems in specific Member States are under strain. However, UNHCR’s activities cannot be a substitute for State responsibility.

“For that reason, UNHCR continues to call on EU countries to offer resettlement places for refugees who are currently without solutions in Libya and other countries where durable solutions are not available,” Mr. Redmond said.


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