28 March 2012
On 28 March 2003, an informal meeting of EU Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) ministers discussed the UK's "new vision for refugees" and the proposed "external processing" of asylum-seekers and "protection in the region" (the so-called "safe havens" plans). The discussions were based on a letter and detailed proposal from Tony Blair, the UK Prime Minister, to the Greek Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
The full-text of the UK proposal: "New international approaches to asylum processing and protection": Blair-Simitis letter (pdf)
See also, analysis: Asylum in the EU: the beginning of the end? on Statewatch News Online.
Reaction to the UK proposals
"The purpose of these measures is to ensure that eastern European countries and Turkey form a bulwark around the EU's existing eastern border. Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria are expected to perform a similar function on Europe's southern flank. The idea is to create as many barriers to refugee movement, in as many different countries and regions, as possible and, in the process, expand the EU's authority over poorer neighbours".
"For decades, from sub-Saharan Africa to Sri Lanka, more than 6 million of the 10 million refugees in UNHCR care have been trapped in exile, unable to return home or settle in their country of asylum. Sending more people back to poor nations will only add to the burden on developing countries, which already cope with 72% of the world's refugees.
"In all but name, Britain is proposing a new network of refugee camps - designated areas where those inside have different rights from those outside. To envisage such a plan is to imagine ghettoes created by the world's most peaceful and richest countries in some of the world's poorest and most unstable regions".
- Raekha Prasad (Refugee camps don't work, The Guardian, 10.2.03)
"ECRE considers that a transfer of responsibility for refugee status determination outside the territory of EU Member States to third countries at the borders of Europe or in the region of origin could risk being incompatible with the fundamental right to seek and enjoy asylum enshrined in Article 14, 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and Article 18 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000). It may also seriously compromise a number of other fundamental rights of those fleeing persecution as included in the Refugee Convention and other international human rights treaties.
"We further consider that as a proponent of international responsibility sharing, the EU should acknowledge that many countries especially those close to regions of origin of refugee populations are hosting far greater numbers of refugees and asylum seekers than are EU Member States. To transfer domestic refugee processing to those regions would not be in accord with the concept of international responsibility sharing and principle of international solidarity that have been developed by many signatories of the 1951 Convention.
"ECRE has grave doubts about the practicality of transferring the responsibility of processing asylum applications to third countries of origin. In the light of our many years of practical experience in Eastern Europe, we have serious concerns regarding the capacity of countries bordering an enlarged European Union to undertake additional protection responsibilities in the light of the unprecedented scale of the migration challenges which these countries already face. The current economic instabilities in the region and hostile public opinion, with increasing reports of violent attacks on ethnic minorities and asylum seekers are also obstacles to the implementation of this proposal".
- European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE Press Release, 17.3.03)
"The real goal behind the UK proposal appears to be to reduce the numbers of spontaneous arrivals in the UK and other EU states by denying access to territory and shifting asylum-seekers to zones outside the EU where refugee protection would be weak and unclear".
- Amnesty International (The Guardian, 28.3.03)
"What's next, do we contact NASA and ask them if they could look after some people on the moon until we decide they are good enough to come to Britain?"
- Gizim Alpion, lecturer at Birmingham university (G2, The Guardian, 11.3.03)
"If you see it purely on the economic side, it has its attractions because Albania does need money, and it also needs links with other countries. Collaboration with the British government would be a good thing. But not on these terms, where Albania pays very heavily. I can't say I would feel very proud of this. especially with the reception that many of the Albanians have received here when they were coming to Britain and looking for asylum".
- Tomorr Kokona, dancer and refugee support worker in London (G2, The Guardian, 11.3.03)
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