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Last Updated: Monday, 24 November, 2003, 16:57 GMT
UN alarm at EU asylum plans

Imogen Foulkes
BBC, Bern

Planned European Union legislation on asylum could undermine international standards on the treatment of asylum-seekers, according to the UN refugee chief.

More and more migrants are detained on their arrival in EU countries
Applications for asylum in EU countries have actually dropped
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, has singled out three areas of particular concern - so-called safe countries, border procedures and the right of asylum-seekers to remain in a country during an appeal.

In a letter to the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, whose country currently holds the presidency of the EU, Mr Lubbers said the proposals should be shelved unless they could be improved.

EU interior ministers are due to meet in Brussels on Thursday to consider the legislation.

Miscarriage of justice

The United Nations refugee agency supports EU plans to harmonise laws on asylum, but not the proposals currently on the table.

The new proposals will not convince other countries that the EU is serious about burden-sharing
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers
The UNHCR points out that up to 60% of refugees are only recognised after their first rejection is overturned on appeal.

It believes the forced return of these people would greatly increase the chances of a miscarriage of justice.

Mr Lubbers says the possibility that asylum-seekers arriving from supposedly safe countries might be denied access to the asylum procedure at all, would run counter to international refugee law and would be unacceptable to the UNHCR.

Around 75% of the world's refugees and asylum-seekers currently live in developing nations; but applications for asylum in EU countries have dropped substantially.

Ruud Lubbers says the new proposals will not convince other countries that the EU is really serious about burden-sharing.

World asylum figures tumble
02 Sep 03  |  In Depth
Belgium's asylum 'lottery'
27 Oct 03  |  Europe

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