Border control efforts must not encroach on needs of asylum-seekers – UN agency

7 January 2011
Asylum-seekers are interviewed about their application in Greece

The United Nations refugee agency today voiced concern that States trying to prevent the entry of irregular migrants into their territories are doing so without establishing guarantees to ensure the protection of those in need.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it has received inquiries about recent statements by Greece about the possibility of building a 12-kilometre fence along its side of the border with Turkey in the Evros region.

“While every State has the right to control its borders, it is clear that among the many people crossing Turkey toward the European Union [EU], there are a significant number who are fleeing violence and persecution,” said Melissa Fleming, the UNHCR spokesperson in Geneva.

“Establishing border control mechanisms which are sensitive to the needs of people seeking protection is therefore vital,” she said.

Ms. Fleming said that building fences rarely solves the underlying problem of migratory pressures, including those of people seeking protection. There is a risk that those requesting asylum will resort to even riskier routes to safety – a reason why large numbers of asylum-seekers find themselves in the hands of groups that smuggle human beings, she added.

The problem in Greece is compounded by the fact that the asylum system is still not functioning properly, despite ongoing reform efforts, according to Ms. Fleming. UNHCR is working with government partners to establish a fair process for assessing the claims of asylum-seekers. Currently, thousands of asylum-seekers are “living in limbo in Greece,” she said.

In Turkey, the Government continues to implement a geographic limitation to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, a move that will allow the country to take responsibility for granting asylum only to refugees who come from European countries. However, most asylum-seekers in Turkey originate from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, Ms. Fleming said.

Claims of asylum-seekers of non-European origin in Turkey are assessed by UNHCR and those who are found to be refugees are permitted to remain, pending resettlement to a third country.

However, the number of resettlement places falls short of the needs and at present there are approximately 10,000 refugees awaiting resettlement from Turkey.

“UNHCR is encouraging more countries, and in particular EU Member States, to show solidarity with Turkey by participating in the resettlement effort,” said Ms. Fleming.


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