Protecting refugees in Europe: UNHCR calls for a ‘year of change’

IOM A quick smile from one of the 183 refugees resettled, originating in Sudan and the Central African Republic, prepares for his new life in France.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is calling on the European Union (EU) to make 2020 “the year of change for robust refugee protection”. On Thursday, the agency issued a set of new recommendations, as Croatia and German preside over the EU Council during the next 12 months.

After years of shifting policies and heated debate, UNHCR said that the ambitious but achievable recommendations would provide a common and workable asylum system within the EU through sustainable reform and revitalized financial support for host countries.

“As we enter a new decade, and following the success of the Global Refugee Forum, the EU under its presidencies has the chance to make 2020 the year of change for robust refugee protection,” said Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, UNHCR’s Regional Representative.

Referring to the last decade as “one of displacement”, Mr. Llosa added that the new one needed to be “one of solutions, starting right now in 2020”.

“By supporting large refugee hosting countries outside Europe, the EU can also help refugees thrive and not just survive”, Mr. Llosa concluded, highlighting the strengths of the new Pact on Migration and Asylum.

Wider opportunities for protection

The UNHCR document highlights two overarching opportunities to show leadership while better protecting refugees in Europe and abroad, namely moving ahead with sustainable asylum reform; and providing more support for the countries taking in refugees.

The agency proposal says that “fair and fast asylum procedures need to be established to quickly determine who needs international protection and who does not.”

People eligible for protection should quickly be granted status and receive support for integration, and those not eligible for any form of protection should be helped to return, it adds.

UNHCR also recommends that, with EU Member States receiving a disproportionate number of asylum claims, there is a need to ensure a truly common and workable asylum system. The agency encourages both countries, which will serve six months each in the presidency, to advance work on an effective solidarity mechanism, including through relocation arrangements, prioritizing family unity.

With 85 percent of the world’s refugees hosted in neighbouring and developing countries, revitalized financial support is also needed. UNHCR called on the presidencies to ensure increased and diversified funding, including for development cooperation funding, to further support host countries and help forcibly displaced people rebuild their lives.

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