UN refugee agency welcomes European Union move to standardize asylum policies

26 April 2002

The United Nations refugee agency today welcomed a new European Union (EU) policy towards asylum seekers as an “important step,” but also noted that the measure might lower some countries’ standards, particularly with regard to refugee employment.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the EU’s adoption yesterday of a directive on reception conditions for asylum seekers should ensure that most asylum seekers will receive a uniform package of benefits since it contained some provisions that will result in an overall improvement in general reception conditions in several EU countries.

“While it would like to have seen more safeguards in certain areas, UNHCR recognizes that the new directive is an important step in bringing greater coherence to asylum policy in the European Union,” spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva.

UNHCR praised the sections of the directive regulating access to health care and education and the provision of identity documents and vital information on asylum procedures, including legal assistance.

The agency also commended the sections requiring EU States to take special measures for vulnerable individuals, including victims of torture or violence, unaccompanied children, pregnant women and the disabled.

But UNHCR said the decision by the EU not to harmonize the very different national policies and practices regarding access to employment was a drawback, particularly at a time when many countries were talking about labour deficits and were also concerned about the costs of supporting asylum seekers through a sometimes lengthy asylum process.

“Not allowing asylum seekers – many of whom are talented and skilled professionals – to work is not beneficial to market economies,” Mr. Redmond said, noting that a recent study conducted by the Swiss Government concluded that giving asylum seekers the right to work did not act as a pull factor. Instead the employment of asylum seekers acted as a significant positive contribution to the national economy.

“UNHCR believes that a well-harmonized asylum system based on a common interest rather than on a State's individual domestic concerns would be of enormous benefit not only to the European Union itself, but also to future generations of refugees,” Mr. Redmond said. “A well-organized, streamlined system would alleviate the pressures caused by asylum seekers moving from state to state in search of better treatment.”

 

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