Statement at the UNHCR High-level meeting on global responsibility-sharing through pathways for admission of Syrian refugees

Statement of Ambassador Tomáš BOČEK, Special Representative of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe on migration and refugees
30 March 2016 30 March 2016
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It is a privilege to address you here today on behalf of the Council of Europe, the 47 member state organisation that promotes human rights in our continent. Like those before me, I would like to thank the UNHCR for hosting this event.

Perhaps a natural starting point is to remind ourselves that have been here before. History is among us. We are being provided with opportunities to show who we are and  what we have learned from the inhumanities of the past. Yet we still struggle with what to do and where to go.

The concept note of today's meeting is right in pointing out that the refugee crisis cannot be addressed without responsibility sharing. The Council of Europe system for the protection of human rights is based on collective responsibility: we have the European Convention on Human Rights, the Court that supervises its application and several other human rights monitoring mechanisms. This collective responsibility involves obligations for each member state. These obligations concern each of the different stages of the process of finding sustainable solutions for refugees.

Let us start with the first stage, which involves dealing with what have been described as accidents of geography. Refugees happen to find themselves in different places. These places may be safe or may be not. Someone should be able to assess this in an authoritative manner. The European Court of Human Rights has not shied away from telling European countries that they cannot send back asylum seekers to other member states that cannot provide them with a number of guarantees. We need to make sure, as the European Court of Human Rights does, that there are no push backs, no refoulement or chain refoulement and no collective expulsions. We need a mechanism, like the Court, that can order interim measures to stop such push backs, refoulements and collective expulsions. And we also need monitoring mechanisms against human trafficking. All these guarantees should be respected even at times of large scale arrivals, as the SG of the Council of Europe has stressed.

The second stage after managing accidents of geography is ensuring solidarity between states. I recently visited Greece. It was clear that the situation there cannot be managed without solidarity. Among the things that are needed are more relocation places and faster relocation procedures. All European regional organisations should be looking into ways of ensuring that solidarity does not remain an empty word and that the responsibility for resettling refugees is effectively shared.

The third stage in the process of finding sustainable solutions involves ensuring that refugees are properly integrated in the destination countries. Good practices should be shared in this connection. In the Council of Europe we have developed mechanisms for assessing the effectiveness of member states' integration policies. These should involve a strong anti-discrimination anti-xenophobic component. Again the Council of Europe can provide assistance to other organisations in showing how these phenomena are monitored. You also need guidelines for the protection of refugee children like the ones issued recently by the SG of the Council of Europe. These can be part of a strategy inspired by the values of the European Convention on Human Rights.

I hope that in my short statement I have illustrated why the search for sustainable solutions for refugees needs a holistic approach, from stage one dealing with the accidents of geography to stage two resettlement to stage three integration. At every stage we need to operate on the basis of the principle of collective responsibility: not only resettlement schemes but also collective mechanisms for coping with the human rights implications of accidents of geography and for sharing good practices in terms of integration policies.

Moving from the regional to the international level, I should like to recall that the international human rights treaties born from the horrors of the past are here to serve as our mechanisms of solidarity today.

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