This Sunday, 20 June 2021, is World Refugee Day. It is a day that is celebrated by the European Union, by Member States and by the millions who benefit from international protection. Celebrated by those who have made lives here in Europe and celebrated by the generations of Europeans who made lives elsewhere. They share a history. A history built under a shelter of international protection.
In the depth of the pandemic last year the European Union statement reasserted that celebration of the right to international protection;
“The EU is committed to the respect of the Geneva Convention for Refugees, which is the cornerstone for the protection of refugees, and to preserve the right to asylum and the principle of non-refoulement as enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights”.
The best way to celebrate World Refugee day is through action. By providing protection to those in need. By upholding the Geneva Convention – established 70 years ago this year.
By protecting refugees and upholding the right to asylum. After all commemorating that convention is one of the stated goals of World Refugee Day.
That is a solid foundation and one worth defending.
Such a history, and such consistent application of those principles, is not reflected in decisions to externalise asylum processes.
The idea of a transfer of asylum-seekers to third countries for processing and accommodation is contrary to the spirit of the Geneva Convention.
A system aiming for external processes outside the EU instead of protecting right to apply for asylum in the EU would send a strong and wrong signal to the outer world: Europe is disengaging. Even more so if you combine external processing with a system where not even an accepted asylum request allow the refugee to come inside the EU.
Not only does it go against the spirit of the Geneva Convention, but it is also indifferent to the knock-on effect to neighbouring EU countries. In the long term, it would erode foundational values and in the short term, it would provoke administrative headaches.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is against the process of externalisation.
I share UNHCR’s concerns about the compatibility of any proposals with international obligations and about the risk of undermining the foundations of the international protection system for the world’s refugees.
External processing of asylum claims raises fundamental questions about both access to asylum procedures and effective access to protection. It is not possible under existing EU rules or proposals under the New Pact on Migration and Asylum.
The Pact on Migration and Asylum is based on the right to asylum as a fundamental right in the European Union, guaranteed by the EU Charter.
On Sunday we would all do well to reflect that the values that underpin this day are the same ones that make the European Union the most prosperous, and the most democratic region in the world. These values are what make the European Union unique and are what guarantees a safe peaceful and democratic future.
In the context of the provision of asylum we should be looking at ways EU Member States can share any responsibility rather than shift that responsibility beyond EU borders.
That is also one of the main principles of my #MigrationEU proposals. It informs my intensive engagement with partner countries. That is how we establish and build trust to best manage migration. Certainly not by sending a message that we wish to ‘offload’ the issue.
And it will also inform my discussions with high-level representatives of the Biden Administration when I meet them at the EU-US JHA Council on 21-22 June. Let us not forget that the EU has far exceeded its’ pledges on resettlement and is a global leader.
Since 2015, more than 65,000 vulnerable refugees have found protection in Europe through the EU's resettlement schemes. The collective pledge from Member States for a further 30,000 resettlement places in 2020 confirms the EU's role as a global leader on resettlement. And soon I will organise a High Level Resettlement Forum and support ambitious pledges I hope Member States will make for providing shelter to refugees this year and next in Europe.
This result is much closer to the spirit and indeed the history of the Geneva Convention on Refugees. I intend to work with EU Member States to guarantee that this is the future path of the convention too.