EU JHA Informal Council, Veria 28-29 March: UK Refugee Proposals Legally Flawed Says Amnesty

At a time when war in Iraq may result in a massive exodus of refugees, Amnesty International has described British proposals to be discussed at EU level tomorrow on processing refugees “in the region”as totally inappropriate, legally flawed and says they risk undermining the Tampere process.

(See document, link at end of page: “Strengthening Fortress Europe in Times of War: Amnesty International commentary on UK proposals for external processing and responsibility sharing arrangements with third countries”.)

EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministers are tomorrow due to discuss the proposal launched by the UK for regional refugee protection zones to be established in countries such as Turkey, Iran, Northern Somalia or Morocco as well as processing zones on the borders of the European Union in Romania, Croatia, Albania or Ukraine.

“It is extraordinary that a proposal to reinforce ‘Fortress Europe’ is being debated at this time when war in Iraq may result in many people fleeing the country. It is doubly incongruous that the present proposals were initiated by the EU member state that is part of the military operations in Iraq,” said Dick Oosting, Director of Amnesty International’s EU Office.

Amnesty International, in its critique of the UK initiative, outlines four concerns:

  1. The proposal contravenes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1951 Refugee Convention.
  2. It risks undermining commitments made at the 1999 Tampere European Council to develop a common asylum system for the EU based on the full and inclusive application of the Geneva Convention.
  3. It will reinforce the “Sangatte syndrome” and endanger the principle of international solidarity by creating a two-tier system – one for the rich and powerful, and another for other countries who are compelled to host the majority of the world’s refugees.
  4. It risks compromising the refugee protection system of the UNHCR.

“The real goal behind the UK proposal appears to be to reduce the number of spontaneous arrivals in the UK and other EU states by denying access to territory and shifting the asylum seekers to processing zones outside the European Union, where responsibility, enforceability and accountability for refugee protection would be weak and unclear,” said Dick Oosting.

Amnesty International is looking to the UNHCR to take the lead in helping define concrete arrangements for resolving specific refugee situations in a principled manner with a strong protection component.

Amnesty International therefore calls on EU Member States to take the opportunity of the Veria JHA Council to develop a coordinated approach to ensure adequate protection of refugees and support their humanitarian needs rather than exploring ways of shifting their responsibility to other more vulnerable countries.

For further comment/background and interviews:
Amnesty International EU Office (Brussels):
Tel: 32-2-5021499
Fax: 32-2-5025686
Email: Download PDF attachement