As the UNHCR celebrated 60 years in Stockholm, the Minister for Asylum and Migration, Tobias Billström defended his work against xenophobia and underlined the need for EU countries to work together to lessen the burden on countries which host large numbers of refugees. He placed his weight behind the idea of a Common European Asylum System which would harmonize the EU approach to deciding cases, but would also pave the way for co-operation on resettlement of refugees.
It is my firm believe that there is a broad consensus among governments and populations in the EU that we should contribute generously to the international protection regime. But generosity, is of course always balanced against economic realities, labour market conditions, integration possibilities and many other factors. To find the right balance, is key for the protection framework in order to gain legitimacy. Gaining legitimacy also depends on how the protection regime is perceived. As long as we have significant differences between national asylum systems, and in the implementation and application of the international protection framework, there will be a lack of legitimacy for the entire protection framework.
From a governmental perspective, I therefore believe that the overarching priority is to establish the Common European Asylum System. Already in the Hague programme it was agreed to set up a such a system, and Sweden has expressed it’s strong support for efforts to finalize this work. We believe that Member States, as well as individuals seeking protection in Europe, will gain from common rules. We also believe that it will reduce the protection gaps, that now exist in Europe.
Today, some Member States receive a disproportionately large share of asylum seekers relative to other Member States. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that there are still significant differences between Member States’ national provisions on asylum procedures, protection related statuses and reception conditions, since the existing Community legislation only contains minimum standards. These protection gaps could best be responded to by creating more common provisions. The establishment of a Common European Asylum System is therefore a key measure also in order to reduce protection gaps.
Mr Billström went on to say that legal discrepancies between states could also be overcome by the greater involvement of the European Court of Justice. The Minister for Migration and Asylum policy in the Nordic state argues that a fair asylum policy, which does not overburden one state in relation to another could help reduce some of the less direct causes of xenophobia. The need for discussion on the issue of people displaced by natural disasters was also discussed.
In a statement issued in Geneva on the occasion of the UNHCR’s 60th anniversary, the head of the agency, António Guterres, agreed:
“UNHCR traditionally was supporting refugees, people that would cross a border because of a conflict or persecution.
“But now we see that more and more people are crossing borders because of extreme poverty, because of the impact of climate change, [and] because of their interrelation with conflict. So there are new patterns of forced displacement and the international community needs to be able to tackle those challenges.”
UNHCR was created on December 14, 1950 by the UN General Assembly. Its original purpose was to address the post-World War II refugee situation in Europe, but its work quickly expanded. By 1956 it was facing its first major international emergency with the outpouring of refugees when Soviet forces crushed the Hungarian Revolution.
There are currently 43 million refugees in the world and some are struggling with the problem of statelessness, whereby a lack of documents or the absence of international recognition for a country such as Somalia and Palestine can lead to a person being refused asylum but not able to return home.