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UNHCR chief calls on EU to harmonize asylum systems

News Stories, 28 March 2008

© UNHCR/M.Sunjic
High Commissioner Guterres (left) with Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel. Talks in Slovenia took place in a friendly and constructive atmosphere.

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia, March 28 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has stressed the need for a harmonized asylum system in European Union countries.

Guterres, meeting with senior Slovenian officials here on Wednesday, said current inconsistencies between national asylum systems compelled people to move around the EU in search of protection.

When up to 90 percent of Iraqis seeking asylum in Sweden are recognized and zero percent get protection in Greece, they will move accordingly, Guterres explained. The lack of a harmonized asylum system encouraged asylum seekers to disappear from one country and move on to another.

The High Commissioner noted that in the public opinion this search for protection was interpreted as an abuse of the system, adding that this was not the case.

Guterres called for swift harmonization, but he cautioned that the EU should not neglect the quality of the asylum system: "Europe has a common space and common borders, but the only thing that is common in the asylum system is a drift towards minimum standards," he said. In this regard, he called for improvements in the asylum system in Slovenia as well.

The High Commissioner said it was vital that people in need of protection had access to EU territory. He cited the Spanish Canary Islands in the Atlantic and Italy's Lampedusa Island in the Mediteranean as examples of "impeccable cooperation" between UNHCR, concerned governments and NGOs in managing difficult mixed population movements.

During his one-day visit, Guterres held talks with President Danilo Türk, Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, Interior Minister Dragutin Mate and National Assembly Vice-President Vasja Klavora, with whom he launched a Slovenian version of the Handbook for Parliamentarians on Statelessness and Nationality. He also met refugee NGOs and spoke with asylum seekers.

By Melita H. Sunjic in Ljubljana, Slovenia

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UNHCR country pages

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action

A UNHCR strategy setting out key areas in which action is required to address the phenomenon of mixed and irregular movements of people. See also: Schematic representation of a profiling and referral mechanism in the context of addressing mixed migratory movements.

International Migration

The link between movements of refugees and broader migration attracts growing attention.

Mixed Migration

Migrants are different from refugees but the two sometimes travel alongside each other.

Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

All in the same boat: The challenges of mixed migration around the world.

The Children of Harmanli Face a Bleak Winter

Since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011, more than 2 million people have fled the violence. Many have made their way to European Union countries, finding sanctuary in places like Germany and Sweden. Others are venturing into Europe by way of Bulgaria, where the authorities struggle to accommodate and care for some 8,000 asylum-seekers, many of whom are Syrian. More than 1,000 of these desperate people, including 300 children, languish in an overcrowded camp in the town of Harmanli, 50 kilometres from the Turkish-Bulgarian border. These people crossed the border in the hope of starting a new life in Europe. Some have travelled in family groups; many have come alone with dreams of reuniting in Europe with loved ones; and still others are unaccompanied children. The sheer number of people in Harmanli is taxing the ability of officials to process them, let alone shelter and feed them. This photo essay explores the daily challenges of life in Harmanli.

The Children of Harmanli Face a Bleak Winter

Beyond the Border

In 2010, the Turkish border with Greece became the main entry point for people attempting by irregular methods to reach member states of the European Union, with over 132,000 arrivals. While some entered as migrants with the simple wish of finding a better life, a significant number fled violence or persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. The journey is perilous, with many reports of drowning when people board flimsy vessels and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the River Evros on the border between Greece and Turkey. The many deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are exacerbated by the pressure of tens of thousands of people awaiting asylum hearings. Reception facilities for new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are woefully inadequate. Last year, UNHCR visited a number of overcrowded facilities where children, men and women were detained in cramped rooms with insufficient facilities. UNHCR is working with the Greek government to improve its asylum system and has called upon other European states to offer support.

Beyond the Border

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

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