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Informal Meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council; Remarks by António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Statements by High Commissioner, 26 January 2012

Copenhagen, 26 January 2012

Mr Chairman thank you first of all for your kind invitation. Honourable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The fundamental purpose of solidarity must be to improve protection for individuals forced to flee, as foreseen in the 1951 Refugee Convention and in EU law. But solidarity is also clearly in the interest of States not only those facing asylum pressures, but also those interested in developing international partnerships and promoting human rights, development and stability; central objectives for the Union.

There are two fundamental principles of solidarity in the asylum context. The first is consistency. National asylum systems in Europe are vastly different, creating harsh imbalances. If an Afghan seeks asylum in Europe, the chances of receiving protection vary from 8% to 91%, depending on the Member State where the claim is lodged. Effective harmonization of asylum practices must go hand-in-hand with solidarity. Each Member State assuming its own responsibilities is a basic requirement for solidarity to be possible.

The second principle is burden-sharing in favour of those who face disproportionate pressure, both globally and within the EU.

Based on these principles, I see three concrete elements which can help us move towards effective solidarity.

The first element is solidarity within the EU. I agree it is time to think of this in new ways always with the focus on improving protection. Several positive ideas are on the table, as noted in the Presidency's background paper for today's meeting, and the Commission's recent Communication on this subject.

UNHCR supports the Presidency's proposal to develop a common framework containing practical tools and mechanisms for solidarity. Such a framework must start with effective measures for identifying gaps and developing solutions, such as the proposed 'early warning' and evaluation mechanism for Dublin II. There is also a need for broader thinking on the quality and functioning of asylum systems more generally, and the overall operation of the Dublin arrangement. We also look forward to the EC's planned study on joint processing of asylum claims in Europe, to which we are ready to contribute with our experience, commitment and knowledge. In addition, an enhanced voluntary relocation programme should be foreseen. Funding and technical support are essential, but solidarity must go beyond that.

Solidarity requires building trust to enable those concerned to share tasks and burdens. UNHCR is ready to strengthen its existing cooperation with Member States and EU institutions, including particularly the EASO, through enhanced information-gathering and practical cooperation on asylum. We also encourage further progress towards necessary changes to legislation, including the Dublin Regulation, to strengthen key safeguards for asylum applicants.

But in Europe's interest, European solidarity must also be felt by the outside world. Therefore, the second element of EU solidarity which I hope to see strengthened is resettlement. It remains a critical tool for the most vulnerable refugees and the most concrete demonstration of willingness to share responsibility with refugee-hosting countries elsewhere.

The proposed EU Joint Resettlement Programme should be adopted in the very near future. This will help to increase resettlement quotas and mean more visibility for Europe's global contribution.

Finally, and most importantly, global solidarity. 80% of today's refugees are hosted by developing countries, often for decades. Many of these countries cannot manage this challenge alone. Nor should they have to.

Continued European support to these countries, through Regional Protection Programmes, humanitarian and development aid as well as capacity-building, is in the interest of all concerned. This is particularly important for durable solutions the only real way to alleviate pressure; be it by making voluntary returns sustainable, or realizing the full potential of local integration opportunities and for addressing the need to prevent displacement, including through support for climate change adaptation in countries more exposed to its adverse effects.

In conclusion, allow me to note that while migration management is important to this discussion, measures taken in this context must contain safeguards for those who seek refuge, upholding the protection objective of solidarity. States have the right, and the obligation, to define their own immigration policies and manage their borders responsibly. But this needs to be done in a way that is protection-sensitive and that does not prevent those who need protection from accessing EU territory.

Thank you very much. I look forward to our discussion.




EU Asylum Law and Policy

EU law and practice affects creation of refugee protection mechanisms in other countries.

The High Commissioner

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


Trends on asylum and protection in EU Member States.

EU Instruments

UNHCR's regularly comments on key EU Regulations and Directives relating to asylum.

UNHCR Projects

UNHCR has numerous projects with EU Member States to improve the quality of asylum.

Judicial Engagement

UNHCR expertise helps courts interpret legislation in accordance with international asylum law.


The significance of resettlement as a durable solution is increasing in the EU.

Integration (refugee rights) and Family Reunification

Integration is a two-way process requiring efforts by the host societies as well as the refugees.

Border Cooperation

UNHCR is lobbying for protection-sensitive border management.

Asylum Practice

UNHCR is monitoring asylum practice and whether it is consistent with the 1951 Convention.

Practical cooperation

UNHCR is promoting and supporting cooperation with EU Member States and EASO.

Working with the European Union

EU law and practice affects creation of refugee protection mechanisms in other countries.

Groups of Concern

UNHCR expects Member States to pay particular attention to asylum seekers and refugees with specific needs.

Statelessness in Europe

UNHCR engages with EU Member States to identify and resolve the problems of stateless persons.

UNHCR Central Mediterranean Sea Initiative (CMSI)

EU solidarity for rescue-at-sea and protection of Asylum Seekers and Migrants.

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

2015 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presents the Nansen medal to Afghan refugee, Aqeela Asifi in Geneva, Switzerland.

Asifi, 49, has dedicated her life to bringing education to refugee girls in Pakistan. Despite minimal resources and significant cultural challenges, Asifi - a former teacher who fled from Kabul with her family in 1992 - has guided over a thousand refugee girls through primary education in the Kot Chandana refugee village in Mianwali, Pakistan.

Before she arrived, strict cultural traditions kept most girls at home. But she was determined to give these girls a chance and began teaching just a handful of pupils in a makeshift school tent.

UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award honours extraordinary service to the forcibly displaced, and names Eleanor Roosevelt, Graça Machel and Luciano Pavarotti among its laureates. Speakers and performers at today's award ceremony include UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Ger Duany, Unicef Goodwill Ambassador and singer Angelique Kidjo and visual artist Cedric Cassimo.

Afghanistan is the largest, most protracted refugee crisis in the world. Over 2.6 million Afghans currently live in exile and over half of them are children.

2015 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Cameroon in late March to put a spotlight on the situation there of tens of thousands of refugees from Nigeria. These people have escaped mounting violence by insurgents in the north-east of their country. Among the places that Guterres visited during his March 24-25 visit is the Minawao Refugee Camp, where many of the uprooted have been relocated.

Situated some 120 kilometres from the dangerous border area with Nigeria in Cameroon's Far North region, Minawao camp is currently home to 33,000 Nigerian refugees, mainly from Borno state. Many of the arrivals are traumatized and in need of material and psycho-social help. They told the High Commissioner of losing their homes and belongings as well as members of their families. Some were injured. In total, an estimated 74,000 Nigerians have found refuge in Cameroon while cross-border incursions from Nigeria have displaced 96,000 Cameroonians. UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux also visited Minawao to hear the individual stories.

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

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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.

Life in the Shadows: People Smuggling at the European Union's Edge

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