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EU needs to remain accessible for asylum-seekers – UN refugee chief

EU needs to remain accessible for asylum-seekers – UN refugee chief

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees
While welcoming efforts to build a unified asylum procedure, the top United Nations refugee official has urged the European Union to ensure the rights of those seeking international protection in its member countries.

The 27-member bloc is currently considering a draft European Pact on Immigration and Asylum, presented earlier this month by the French EU Presidency.

“We are concerned that the very strong focus on controlling the EU’s external border is making it ever more difficult for people seeking asylum to reach Europe’s territory and asylum procedures,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said during a visit with top EU officials in Brussels on Wednesday.

“Practical measures need to be taken to make sure that protection remains accessible for those who need it,” he stressed, voicing the hope that the draft European Pact would support the construction of a “Europe of Asylum.”

While in Brussels, Mr. Guterres met with European Commission (EC) President José Manuel Barroso, to whom he expressed UNHCR’s appreciation for the continued financial and political support provided by the Commission.

He also met with EC Vice-President Jacques Barrot, who is responsible for justice, freedom and security. The two discussed asylum issues in the EU and beyond, and Mr. Guterres highlighted the cooperation between UNHCR and the EC on the ambitious project of building a Common European Asylum System.

The High Commissioner and Mr. Barrot also discussed ways of expanding refugee resettlement in the EU, with Mr. Guterres highlighting the need for the Union to show its support for non-EU countries, which host the majority of the world’s refugees.

“Resettling refugees is a way to show solidarity with countries such as Syria, which currently hosts around a million refugees from Iraq,” he said. “We urge the Commission to continue its efforts to increase resettlement in the EU.”

Mr. Guterres also met Peter Zangl, the new head of ECHO, the humanitarian aid wing of the EC and a very important UNHCR partner.