UN refugee chief urges European Union to develop common asylum system

8 September 2008
António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees

The chief United Nations advocate for refugees today appealed to European Union member countries to build a coherent and effective unified asylum system that will promote the rights of the migrants who arrive in the 27-member bloc and seek protection.

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told an EU ministerial conference in Paris that a common European asylum system would “serve as an example to the entire world” of the importance of strengthening protection for refugees.

Acknowledging that the establishment of a common system would be “an ambitious and unprecedented venture,” given there are 27 EU members, Mr. Guterres said that internationally accepted norms for protecting refugees must be respected under any unified policy devised.

“I am certain that it is possible to build a ‘Europe of asylum’ and to establish well-balanced migration policies,” he said, adding later that it made no sense to have 27 different asylum systems when the EU’s internal borders have largely disappeared.

Mr. Guterres stressed that a common system must meet three challenges: ensuring the EU is accessible for those seeking protection; correcting the current wide discrepancies between the asylum practices of different bloc members; and upholding solidarity both within the EU and with other countries.

“Our societies are increasingly multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious. This reality requires a societal commitment to combat intolerance and to promote co-existence.”

He called on the EU to do more to accept refugees through resettlement, noting that over four-fifths of the world’s refugees are hosted by countries in the developing world.

“At present, just seven of the 27 EU Member States implement resettlement programmes. The European Union is providing only around 6 per cent of the resettlement places available worldwide, or 5,000 places annually.”


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