Asylum systems in some countries ineffective, warns senior UN refugee official

1 October 2009
Refugee teenagers in Romania

Despite some improvements over the past year, asylum systems in some countries remain ineffective and unresponsive, the top protection official with the United Nations refugee agency has warned.

Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller said this was “in spite of substantial investment in capacity building, with many lacking sufficient procedural or protection safeguards, perhaps to serve a deterrent function.”

In her annual address to the executive body of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Ms. Feller that despite some improvements, insecurity and narrowing protection space are prevalent in too many countries.

Among the issues of concern, according to a news release from the agency, are remote and isolated location of reception centres for asylum-seekers, limited access to and low quality of state legal aid and interpretation services, absence of time limits for detention and insufficient number of procedural guarantees for vulnerable groups.

She said one of the more disturbing general trends is the increasing number of unaccompanied and separated children seeking asylum.

“Systems are often created with adult beneficiaries in mind, thereby exposing children to totally inappropriate or damaging situations,” said Ms. Feller. “No matter what their status, children must be treated as children first and their best interests professionally identified and respected.”

The Assistant High Commissioner added that for many refugees, “asylum conditions can prove as devastating an experience in some situations as the circumstances which forced them into exile.”

She noted the conditions in Kenya’s Dadaab site – the biggest refugee camp complex in the world – which in include massive congestion, inadequate reception or registration systems, poor health and sanitation conditions and a worrying level of malnutrition.

“One can but wonder how, in these conditions, it can be said that asylum is providing real or meaningful human security,” she said.

At the same time, she did note some positive developments, including the return of 600,000 refugees to their homes last year.

A “most praise-worthy development,” she added, was the naturalization of more than 12,000 long-term refugees living in Tanzania.


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