Statement on behalf of the Council of Europe – 72nd UNHCR Executive Committee session

Special Representative on Migration and Refugees 7 October 2021
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Speaking Points – Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Refugees

72nd session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme

4-8 October 2021 – Geneva

Speaking time: 5 minutes – Check against delivery


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to express my gratitude to High Commissioner Filippo Grandi for his invitation to this Executive Committee.

First, let me praise the excellent relations and the ongoing cooperation between the Council of Europe and UNHCR. Just recently, on 24 September, I had the opportunity to open with Assistant High Commissioner Gillian Triggs a joint Council of Europe-UNHCR international conference on Statelessness and the right to a nationality in Europe: progress, challenges and opportunities which brought very fruitful exchanges and provided important guidance to States in order to eliminate statelessness.

On this note, I would also like to reaffirm the commitment of the Council of Europe to work with its Member States to fulfil the pledges made in 2019 at the Global Refugee Forum and during the High Segment on statelessness[1]. The protection of human rights continues to be the core activities of the CoE, protecting human rights of refugees and migrants remains my mandate as Special Representative.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which continues to be a cornerstone of asylum policies in Europe and beyond. The Convention is ever more relevant in the context of the numerous challenges associated with migration and asylum in recent times.

The Geneva Convention, together with the European Convention on Human Rights constitute the basis also for our work here in the CoE.

I am very pleased to inform you that the Committee of Ministers adopted last May a new Action Plan on protecting vulnerable people in the context of migration and asylum in Europe (2021-2025). This document will guide the action of the Council of Europe in the years to come, according to the standards developed by the ECHR. My role as the Special Representative on Migration and Refugees is to coordinate this important work and to advocate for effective multilateralism, building on the existing excellent cooperation with our partners, in particular with UNHCR during the 5 years of its implementation and beyond.

This new Action Plan provides for the implementation of a wide range of actions and is underpinned by the premise that all migrants are vulnerable.

It contains 32 actions that fall under 4 pillars following the mandate of the Council of Europe. The first pillar is concerned with ensuring protection and promoting safeguards by identifying and responding to vulnerability; the second pillar is about ensuring access to law and justice; the third pillar aims at fostering democratic participation and enhancing inclusion. The fourth and last pillar seeks to increase cooperation between Council of Europe Member States.

The Action Plan also makes the explicit reference to the need to ensure access to law and justice for vulnerable persons in the context of migration and asylum, including through the implementation of “Council of Europe pledges to the UNHCR campaign to end statelessness” and with a specific mention to international conferences and technical meetings on statelessness.

Many activities undertaken in the context of this new Action Plan continue to focus on refugee and migrant children. This means either enhancing activities started already during the previous Action Plan on protecting refugee and migrant children or building on its achievements and engaging in new projects.

All the activities undertaken became even more timely following the devastating pictures of the Taliban take-over in Afghanistan, and its immediate consequences on the lives of many, including women and girls in particular.

Our work will continue from to focus on the implementation of the Committee of Ministers recommendation on guardianship through the adoption of a new set of guidelines on age assessment, to activities, such as further promoting the CoE’s European Qualification Passport for Refugees.

While proving its importance during the pandemic, when focus was brought to assessing refugees’ qualifications related to the health-field in order to help Member States, the project of EQPR delivered on Friday 10 September a specific training module for credential evaluators dealing with qualifications from Afghanistan. Evaluation sessions for Afghan refugees are being prepared in cooperation with competent national authorities and will be conducted as soon as the profiles of potential candidates willing to participate in the assessments will be confirmed.

No other such international instrument exists in Europe and as such, and the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees was presented at the UNHCR's Global Forum for Refugees in Geneva in December 2019 as a best practice.

We continue to build on this solid basis of cooperation between the Council of Europe and UNHCR to increase collectively the efficiency in ensuring the utmost respect for the rights of refugees. I believe that our new Action Plan and UNHCR’s Strategic directions both provide for opportunities to work closer together. I look forward to this cooperation.

Additional speaking points

COVID-19: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, States around the world have implemented a wide range of restrictions. These restrictions have had an impact on the lives of everyone, but vulnerable people have been disproportionately affected. Not only children but also women, victims of human trafficking or gender-based violence, stateless persons… Within the mandate of the CoE, I would like to call for all States to adopt a widely encompassing understanding of vulnerability – including but limited to the categories of public I mentioned – and to continue their efforts in developing adequate individual evaluation mechanisms.

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