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Sweden, president of the EU until July 2001, says it is committed to creating a common European Asylum Policy. John Morrison, author of a UNHCR report on the smuggling of refugees, argues that the current direction of EU policy risks ending the right of asylum in Europe.

BBC News Online set up an email dialogue between John Morrison and the Swedish Minister of Migration Maj-Inger Klingall.

You state that movement towards a Common European Asylum System is a priority of this current Presidency. Yet agreeing such minimum standards is a minefield of competing national interests - as it was in the early 1990s when the German Government tried to advance responsibility sharing between the then EU member states (not including Sweden). Why did recent negotiations held in Visby, Gotland, result in such slow progress?"

 

I agree that harmonisation in the field of asylum and migration within the EU is too slow. Therefore I'm glad that we could reach political agreement at a recent ministerial meeting in Brussels on a directive on temporary protection to apply when a large number of displaced persons arrive in the EU. People in need of temporary protection in an EU Member State will be given the right to work, housing, emergency health care, maintenance support and education, plus the right to family reunification. The agreement also aims at achieving an even division of responsibility between the member states.

 

I agree that responsibility sharing between EU states is essential in all aspects of refugee policy, not just temporary protection. There has been interest within the High Level Working Group for "regional solutions" for refugees fleeing countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq, which would keep those refugees en route to Europe in "processing centres" in countries such as Turkey or even Pakistan. How would the EU ensure that each member state took its responsibility for "spontaneous" asylum-seekers held at such centres and how would we also share our responsibility with neighbouring countries such as Pakistan (which currently hosts 2 million Afghan refugees)? It is worth noting that the Taliban itself rose out of the over-crowding and squalor of these camps.

 

A comprehensive approach to the protection of refugees should include both regional approaches, solidarity through resettlement/quota co-operation with the UNHCR, strengthening of asylum systems in transit countries and a good capacity and willingness to accept spontaneous asylum seekers. A regional approach means for instance stronger support to the UNHCR and to neighbouring countries that receive large numbers of refugees. If long-term protection needs cannot be met in a neighbouring country, or if the possibilities of that country to give protection are severely limited, I think we need to discuss ways of solving that problem - for example by resettling refugees to our countries. Sweden and a number of other countries - among them the United States - have resettlement agreements with the UNHCR. In crisis situations, EU member states have also - as in the Kosovo/FYROM - taken responsibility for large numbers of refugees through humanitarian evacuations. When it comes to our own capacity to receive asylum seekers and guarantee international protection to those in need, we are now aiming to harmonise norms and rules in a way that meets highly set standards.

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