27th Sep 2023

UN calls on EU to treat asylum seekers fairly

  • "With few opportunities to enter the EU by regular means, thousands of people ... have no choice but to take the dangerous sea route," the UNHCR says (Photo: AFM)

With as many as 67,000 crossing the Mediterranean to seek asylum in Europe in 2008, the United Nations refugee agency has urged the EU to make sure it treats those arriving fairly, describing the EU's strict immigration rules as among the factors explaining the number of migrants that undertake the treacherous voyage.

"With few opportunities to enter the EU by regular means, thousands of people threatened by persecution and serious human rights violations in their home countries have no choice but to take the dangerous sea route," Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told journalists on Friday (9 January) at a press briefing in Geneva.

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"This highlights the vital need to ensure that State agreements and measures to tighten borders do not block access to safety for those seeking protection in the EU," he added.

According to the UNHCR, those who arrive in the EU seeking asylum should be allowed to disembark "in a safe place, where they can receive information about their rights and have a genuine opportunity to file an asylum application which will be considered in a fair procedure."

"Sending refugees back to countries where they cannot enjoy effective protection could violate member states' international obligations to refrain from refoulement," the UN agency said, referring to the principle of international law, in which refugees must be protected from being returned to places where their lives or freedoms could be threatened.

It estimates that more than 67,000 people, mostly from Somalia and Eritrea, arrived in Europe last year, of which 38,000 went to Italy and Malta alone.

The UNHCR also says more than half of them were eventually judged to be in need of international protection – 60 percent in Malta and some 50 percent of those seeking asylum in Italy were granted refugee status.

For its part, Fortress Europe – a blog charting local news reports – stresses that those undertaking the journey to Europe in overcrowded boats put themselves at big risk, and points out that more than 9,400 migrants have died at sea in the last 20 years.

The interior ministers of Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Malta are to meet in Rome on Tuesday to discuss the issue and look into a possible joint strategy.

Two days after this meeting of southern European states, on 15 January, all 27 EU justice and home affairs ministers will gather for an informal meeting in Prague, where the topic could also be raised.

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