Asylum ‘under attack’ on Europe’s borders: UN

The UN voiced alarm Thursday atincreasingly frequent pushbacks and expulsions of refugees at Europe’s borders, warning that the very idea of asylum itself was under attack on thecontinent, reports AFP.

The United Nations refugee agency called on countries to create independent monitoring mechanisms to ensure the right to seek asylum and toinvestigate violations.

Gillian Triggs, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, said theagency had “received a continuous stream of reports of some European statesrestricting access to asylum, returning people after they have reached territory or territorial waters, and using violence against them at borders.” 

“The pushbacks are carried out in a violent and apparently systematicway,” she lamented.

“Boats carrying refugees are being towed back. People are being rounded upafter they land and then pushed back to sea. Many have reported violence and abuse by state forces.”

The UNHCR also warned that people arriving by land were also beinginformally detained and forcibly returned to neighbouring countries “withoutany consideration of their international protection needs”.

The 1951 Refugee Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights andEU law requires states to protect people’s right to seek asylum and protection, even if they enter a country illegally, the agency pointed out. International law also protects against so-called refoulement — returningasylum seekers to places where they risk persecution and torture, it said. “Respecting human lives and refugee rights is not a choice, it’s a legal and moral obligation,” Triggs stressed. “While countries have the legitimate right to manage their borders inaccordance with international law, they must also respect human rights.”

“Pushbacks are simply illegal.” UNHCR said it had made its concerns clearto European countries and had called for “urgent inquiries into allegedviolations and mistreatment”.

The agency pointed out that the number of migrants, refugees and asylumseekers arriving in Europe has been steadily declining.

In 2020, some 95,000 arrived by sea and land, down 23 percent from 2019,and down 33 percent from 2018.

“With so few arrivals to Europe, this should be a manageable situation,”the UNHCR said.

“It is regrettable that the issue of asylum remains politicised anddivisive despite such declining numbers.”

The agency said it realised some European countries were carrying a“disproportionate responsibility” in taking in new arrivals and called on other countries on the continent to do their share and demonstrate “solidarity”.

It also urged European countries to uphold commitments to refugeeprotection, meaning they should admit asylum seekers at their borders, rescuethose stranded at sea and allow them to promptly disembark.

UNHCR has repeatedly lambasted countries which close their doors todesperate refugees — in particular European nations that have left migrantsstranded at sea for long periods of time and supported repatriation to chaos-wracked Libya.