More has to be done to deliver on European commitments for asylum seekers – UN refugee agency

13 Sep 2016

More has to be done to deliver on European commitments for asylum seekers – UN refugee agency

13-09-16unhcreu.jpg Highlighting that the number of pledges to relocate asylum-seekers continues to be woefully low and its implementation slow and challenging, the United Nations refugee agency today called on European countries to do more to deliver significantly on the commitments they have made.

“Effective relocation is key to increasing solidarity and responsibility sharing in Europe, and ensuring the better management of movements,” a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), William Spindler, told a news briefing at the UN Office at Geneva today.

“This is particularly vital given the humanitarian situation in Greece, and the increasing number of people staying in Italy and applying for asylum,” he added.

According to UNHCR, the number of people seeking refugee status in Europe has soared over recent years. This is due in large part to war in Syria and Iraq, as well as conflict and instability in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea and elsewhere.

In their search for sanctuary, increasing numbers of refugees and migrants are crossing the Mediterranean, a perilous journey which has cost thousands their lives, according to UNHCR, which is pressing for concerted European action to prevent the loss of lives at sea, and works to ensure dignified reception standards, protection-sensitive asylum systems and durable solutions. 

Last year, the European Union (EU) and UN Member States agreed on a two-year plan to relocate 160,000 asylum-seekers, mainly from Greece and Italy, to other European countries. However, until now only 4,776 asylum-seekers have been relocated from the two countries – less than three per cent of the original target, according to the UNCHR spokesperson.

Mr. Spindler pointed that first-time asylum applicants in Italy have increased by 53 per cent, to 72,470, this year compared to the same period in 2015, during which the total stood at

47,428, impacting the country’s reception and asylum system capacity.

A refugee crisis is happening in Europe. Urgent and bold action is needed from the Greek government and the European union.

In Greece, some 12,290 relocation candidates and other asylum-seekers have been accommodated in temporary accommodation, but many more men, women and children who are eligible for relocation are living in sites with poor conditions and security, which are inadequate for the coming winter.

Given this situation, the UN official emphasized the need for countries to work in partnership with the Greek and Italian authorities, as well as with relevant agencies, to increase the personnel and infrastructure made available, and to speed up the registration and processing of cases.

Mr. Spindler also called on EU and UN Member States to revisit the eligibility criteria and lower the threshold for relocation candidates to include additional nationalities likely in need of protection.

Currently, only asylum-seekers of nationalities with an average recognition rate of 75 per cent or higher at the EU level are eligible for relocation. The UNHCR spokesperson said that, according to the latest available EU data, this threshold excludes, for example, Iraqis, who previously met the threshold, as their average recognition rate has fallen to 73 per cent.

Mr. Spindler also emphasized the need for parallel efforts for integrating those refugees not eligible for relocation.

“It is imperative,” he said, “that our collective efforts begin to deliver significantly on the commitments made one year ago for the benefit of people in need of international protection.”