Migrant policy on right track but needs action

The determination of the European Council to shape a common asylum and immigration policy and its detailed proposals for the policy’s development are very encouraging but it is high time the theory was put into practice, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’s (UNHCR) representative in Greece, Robert White, told Kathimerini English Edition when asked to comment on the council’s conclusions following the EU summit in Halkidiki earlier this month. «We were generally satisfied with the conclusions reached in Halkidiki,» White said in an interview last week. He said the UNHCR was particularly pleased with the council’s emphasis on the need to «examine ways and means to enhance the protection capacity of (migrants’) regions of origin» as this would reduce the number of illegal immigrants forced to seek asylum within the boundaries of the European Union as well as acting as a long-term measure for tackling problems in migrants’ regions of origin. «We are also very happy at the European Council’s recognition of the significance of the UNHCR’s role in advising and cooperating with EU member states to ensure that this happens,» White added. However, White stressed that the primary concerns of the UNHCR were for the adoption by the end of 2003 of two fundamental EC directives: the «qualifications directive,» determining the definition of a refugee, and the «procedures directive,» setting the minimum standards for procedures in EU states for granting and withdrawing refugee status. «The passage into European law of this basic legislation is crucial – and overdue (the approval of the qualification directive had been scheduled for the beginning of June but was postponed until December due to various objections by member states),» White noted. «And this is just the first step,» he added. «These directives have to be transposed into Greek legislation – and that is no straightforward process.» White stressed that a 1999 presidential decree on asylum and immigration procedures «provided a solid base on which Greece has been operating up until now.» But he stressed that «much more must be done» and that approval of the above two directives is a prerequisite for further progress. In two substantial sections of the report on «management of external borders» and «partnership with third countries» (the immigrants’ countries of origin), the council calls for action. It proposes the establishment of an «Immigration Liaison Officers’ network in third countries (countries of migrants’ origin) at the earliest possible date and before the end of 2003» to assist in the management of external borders. And it suggests the development of «an evaluation mechanism to monitor relations with third countries which do not cooperate with the EU in combating illegal immigration.» White said both proposals were interesting but were not yet developed enough to be commented upon. Paradoxically, the section on the return of migrants to their countries of origin is the briefest in the report – something which suggests the lack of progress made in this area. Here, the council calls for «reinforcing existing cooperation,» though without going into detail, and the establishment of «mechanisms» – which remain unspecified – to deal with the problem. Indeed, White noted that certain key issues remain virtually unaddressed. «What about those migrants whose asylum applications have been rejected, who have exhausted all their appeals?» White inquired. «We do not hear anything about them. There has to be a solution for these people too. This is an area where not much progress has been made,» he added. The council’s conclusions did not mention British-backed proposals for «transit processing centers» as the matter was not raised at the EU summit. «We did not like the idea of these centers and so were happy that the proposals were dropped,» White remarked.

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