UNHCR issues recommendations as Poland assumes EU Presidency

Briefing Notes, 1 July 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 1 July 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR has made recommendations to Poland on taking forward the EU asylum agenda, upon the commencement of its European Union Presidency today. This will be the first time that Poland has taken on the rotating EU Presidency since it joined the Union in 2004. In its paper, UNHCR highlights the fact that Poland assumes the Presidency on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention the very instrument which protected many Polish refugees during the first 40 years of the Convention's existence. Today Poland is itself an asylum country. Last year, 6,540 persons applied for asylum in Poland making it the 10th largest recipient country among the 27 EU member states.

The UNHCR recommendations focus on four areas: (1) The need for Europe to keep its borders open to people fleeing the crisis in Libya, and to show solidarity with Tunisia and Egypt, as the countries of first refuge; (2) the importance of continued efforts to build asylum capacity and protection space in countries at the EU's Eastern border as well as in the Western Balkans; (3) the work which remains to be done in order to build a truly Common European Asylum System, in view of continued major discrepancies in the practice of EU countries; and (4) the EU's potential contribution to UNHCR's Commemorations in 2011 of the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention and the 50th Anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. UNHCR encourages the EU to come to the December Ministerial Meeting which the High Commissioner is convening with concrete pledges of actions, in particular in the area of refugee resettlement. UNHCR further urges EU countries to accede to the 1954 and 1961 Statelessness Conventions, pointing out that only 14 of the 27 EU Member States are Parties to both of these instruments.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Brussels: Melita Sunjic, on mobile +32 473 17 23 58

  • In Budapest, Hungary: Roland Schoenbauer, on mobile + 36 30 375 32 55

UNHCR's Recommendations to Poland for its EU Presidency (PDF)




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So far this year, nearly 200,000 people have entered the European Union (EU) through irregular routes - many undertaking life-threatening journeys across the Mediterranean. At the fringes of the EU recently, on either side of the border between Hungary and Serbia, several Afghans and Syrians explained to UNHCR why they turned to smugglers to flee war and persecution to try to find safety in Europe. Some were staying in an abandoned brick factory in Serbia, waiting for smugglers to get them into Hungary and on to other points inside the EU. Others had been caught making just such a journey and were temporarily being held in police cells in south-eastern Hungary. The following images were taken by UNHCR's Kitty McKinsey.

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Of those who made it to Lampedusa, some 6,000 claimed asylum. And nearly half of these were recognized as refugees or granted some form of protection by the Italian authorities.

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UNHCR has called upon EU member states to address the current gaps in asylum and reception. A collective and far-reaching European response is required, based on the principles of humanity, access to protection, solidarity and responsibility-sharing, both within the EU but also with countries outside the EU.

*Names changed for protection reasons.

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