Interview with UNHCR Spokesman William Spindler

"Europe Has a Legal Duty to Help"

The flow of refugees from Africa to Europe has not let up. In an interview UNHCR spokesman William Spindler comments on the responsibilities of the EU with respect to migration policy

Refugees in Morocco (photo: dpa)
There has to be a realistic refugee policy that at the same time adheres to human rights, says William Spindler

​​How do you assess the current measures taken by the EU to handle migration?

William Spindler: The EU should not only see migration as a problem, but also perceive the advantages it brings. In addition, Europe should promote development, because as long as there is poverty, people will attempt to leave their countries. The EU’s answer should therefore lie in the causes of migration.

How can the EU do this?

Spindler: It should take into account all aspects of migration, beginning with the countries of origin, then the transit countries, such as the North African states, which are equally poor and require help, to the countries taking in refugees. The reason why so many people are coming to Europe is the demand for work.

What the EU needs is a realistic development policy. The UNHCR concentrates on refugees that cannot return to their home countries. The EU must provide protection for these people. In addition, the EU has a moral and legal obligation. It can also consider our suggestions and implement decisions that categorize people according to their needs. I am not saying that the EU should allow everyone in, but there are those who come here because they are persecuted. In such cases, the EU has no choice but to accept them.

Are there alternatives to fleeing?

Spindler: In many cases, yes. Those fleeing from persecution can often find opportunities to remain in their own country. But, as we know, in many areas of the world, human rights are being constantly abused and people are persecuted on account of their religion or ethnicity. In such cases, victims of persecution cannot find protection in their own country and must flee its borders. Other states have the obligation to accept them. This is the basis for the international convention on refugees.

How many people have fled the Sub-Saharan region for Europe?

Spindler: Here we are talking about a very small number of people and the numbers are constantly decreasing. There are three million migrants in Africa. In comparison, some 283,000 people from the whole world seek asylum in Europe, and of these only eleven percent come from Sub-Saharan countries.

As such, the number of asylum seekers in Europe is at its lowest level for 25 years. Therefore, there is not a problem with asylum seekers, but rather a problem in perception. Europeans talk about a growing number of asylum seekers, but this is simply not true. There has to be a realistic refugee policy that at the same time adheres to human rights.

The interview was conducted by Lisa Hemmerich.

© DEUTSCHE WELLE/Qantara.de 2006

Translated from the German by John Bergeron

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