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MEMO/11/423

Brussels, 19 June 2011

Joint Statement By Kristalina Georgieva, Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response and Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Home Affairs, on the occasion of World Refugee Day

"Tomorrow the international community marks World Refugee Day. Sadly it is not a day for celebration, as a growing number of people around the world are displaced by disasters and conflicts. In Europe, we have a particular reason to think about refugees and displaced people at this time, now that violence is displacing thousands of men, women and children, and triggering humanitarian emergencies, such as those in Libya and Syria, near our doorstep. We hope that the European Council will send a clear signal next week, and call for an effective, fair and protective Common European Asylum System.

Of the more than one million people who have fled Libya over the past few months, the large majority were foreign workers who needed – and received – assistance in returning home. The Commission has provided concrete assistance for that process, in the form of emergency humanitarian aid and transport. So far, few asylum seekers have arrived in Europe. It is the North African countries that are bearing the greatest burden of the conflict in Libya.

The Arab Spring has not unleashed the human tide upon Europe that some feared. And while we have a duty to protect Europe’s borders and deter irregular immigration, we should not let fear stand in the way of the human values we share with our neighbours: the imperative of helping those in need and caring for the most vulnerable.

By helping to alleviate the emergency that has been unfolding on Libya’s borders, we are trying to make sure that the people escaping violence are not boarding shack-boats to Lampedusa and Malta. By helping to care for the thousands of refugees who flock from Libya into Tunisia and Egypt, we are not only providing direct humanitarian relief to these people but helping the host countries concentrate on their own transition towards democracy.

But we also need to think about those people fleeing the Libyan war who now have no homes, or for whom return would be as unsafe as staying in Libya. We cannot, for example, repatriate Somalis or Eritreans to their home countries, where they are likely to face persecution and violence. So we must find solutions for their resettlement, including here in Europe.

All of the EU's Member States are signatories of the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees. The events in North Africa have confirmed the importance of a comprehensive and coherent European asylum system, based on solidarity and shared responsibility. The opening of the European asylum support office (EASO) in Malta today is a step in this direction. The EASO will support Member States in better managing the reception of asylum seekers and in assessing their claims for protection.

In order to reach the target set by the European Council to complete a common European system by 2012, we need a renewed commitment and greater efforts by all Member States. We need to have a system which is both efficient and protective and which guarantees that asylum seekers are treated in an equal and appropriate manner wherever they are in the European Union.

Offering asylum to those in need is an obligation. On World Refugee Day, we therefore call for further concrete engagements and expressions of solidarity towards the third countries who are receiving large numbers of people fleeing the war in Libya – for Europeans, and for the refugees and displaced persons who need our solidarity the most."

Background

At the end of 2010, the number of refugees and internally displaced persons around the world exceeded 42,5 million people. They are among the most vulnerable in humanitarian crises. This is why refugees and internally displaced communities are at the heart of the mandate of the Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO). Through ECHO, in 2010 the European Commission allocated more than €163 million to helping millions of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons around the world.

In 2010, there were some 257 800 asylum seekers registered in the EU, or 515 applicants per million inhabitants. In the same year, 55.100 asylum seekers were accorded refugee status, 'subsidiary protection' status or some other form of humanitarian status allowing them to remain in the EU.

The protection of and provision of help to refugees worldwide is entrusted to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), whose 60th anniversary is celebrated by the international community this year. The European Commission is UNHCR's second largest donor – in 2010: more than €75 million were targeted from the Commission's humanitarian budget to refugees around the world through UNHCR.

Examples

Since the outbreak of fighting in Libya, more than one million people have fled the country. The human load of runaways from the conflict has been substantially reduced thanks to efforts – including those of the EU - to repatriate foreigners and to care for the displaced along the borders. But the emergency continues. A recent and troubling spill-over of the crisis is the complex situation on Libya's borders with Chad and Niger, where thousands of exhausted returnees are trapped with no means, food or medical care. Those who manage to reach their home countries are a burden to the already fragile, food-insecure and impoverished communities, which suffer acutely from the fall in the level of remittances from breadwinners in Libya. The European Commission has been engaged in the mobilisation of international humanitarian organisations to contain this budding emergency.

Earlier this year, Cote d'Ivoire suffered a humanitarian catastrophe, which displaced one million people and triggered a refugee wave of more than 125 000 Ivoirians. Particularly alarming was the spill-over impact of the conflict, which placed an enormous burden on neighbouring countries, particularly Liberia, to which over 120,000 refugees had fled to poor areas where their hosts were already on the verge of a humanitarian crisis. The European Commission was the first international donor to respond to this crisis, as early as December 2010. The humanitarian support of the Commission, increased several times to match the growing needs, reached 30 million EUR in April 2011. This European assistance allows humanitarian organisations to care for internally displaced Ivoirians and refugees.

Yemen is another country that has been undergoing recent, rapid and violent transformation, but which has for years been experiencing a largely forgotten humanitarian crisis. Close to 200,000 refugees live in Yemen, mostly form the Horn of Africa. Meanwhile, over 340,000 of Yemen's own population in the Northern Governorates are internally displaced by years of recurrent conflict. To address the pressing humanitarian needs of refugees and internally displaced people in Yemen, in January 2011 the European Commission mobilised 15 million EUR in aid and opened a humanitarian office in Sana'a.

Further east in Asia, an estimated number of 200,000 stateless Rohingyas have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh and live there without recognised legal status. Only 29,000 of them have been granted refugee status and are under the protection of the UNHCR, with the long-term support of the European Union. Since 2007, the European Commission has been providing €3million/year in humanitarian assistance (health and nutrition, water and sanitation, protection/security) to approximately 40,000 unregistered Rohingyas in two unofficial settlements (Kutupalong makeshift camp and Leda settlement).

For further information:

http://ec.europa.eu/echo/index_en.htm

Homepage of Kristalina Georgieva, Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response:

http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/georgieva/index_en.htm

Homepage of DG ECHO:

http://ec.europa.eu/echo/index_en.htm

Homepage of Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Home Affairs:

http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/malmstrom/welcome/default_en.htm

Homepage of DG Home Affairs:

http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/index_en.htm


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