Place: Rabat Process region
Interview with Mrs Janice Lyn Marshall, Deputy Director, Policy and Law Pillar, Division of International Protection, UNHCR Geneva
The recently approved “Rome Declaration” and its operational annex, the “Rome Programme”, highlight the importance of international protection which will be considered henceforth as one of the main thematic pillars within the Rabat Process framework.
Never, since the early 1990s, have there been so many people forced to flee and cross international borders. By the end of 2013, 51.2 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations. Some 16.7 million persons were refugees: 11.7 million under UNHCR’s mandate and 5.0 million Palestinian refugees registered by UNRWA. The global figure included 33.3 million IDPs and close to 1.2 million asylum-seekers.
In many parts of the world, refugees move irregularly alongside migrants as part of mixed population movements. In the absence of legal admission channels, many risk their lives at sea, in desert crossings and at the hands of smuggling and trafficking networks in an attempt to find safety and protection. From UNHCR’s perspective, contemporary migration challenges and the human tragedies that they entail can only be effectively addressed through the adoption of comprehensive regional approaches that balance States’ legitimate interests in border management and law enforcement with State responsibilities to ensure the protection of those fleeing conflict and persecution. Against this background, UNHCR welcomes the inclusion of a pillar on the promotion of international protection in the Rabat Process. In our view, this flows very logically from the reality that failure to address the humanitarian and protection needs of refugees only contributes to their onward movement and feeds the growth of a now flourishing people-smuggling industry in the region, and the Rabat Process offers a vehicle through which protection–sensitive mechanisms and projects can be elaborated and implemented.
In recent years, UNHCR has been deeply concerned by the staggering increase in dangerous crossings in the Mediterranean -mainly departing from Libya - resulting in an increase in deaths at sea. Close to 219,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean in 2014, compared to about 60,000 in 2013. Over 3,500 people are believed to have lost their lives or are missing at sea in the Mediterranean. Many people have also been reported to have been subject to abuse and have lost their lives during dangerous desert crossings.
For its part, UNHCR has developedas part of its Global Initiative on Protection at Sea, a Central Mediterranean Sea Initiative, which puts forward concrete steps that States may take within the EU, in countries of transit or first asylum as well as countries of origin, aimed at preventing loss of life at sea. In parallel, UNHCR is working with countries across the region covered by the Rabat Process to address the root causes of forced displacement and strengthen arrangements for the protection of refugees in line with international refugee law as well as international customary law relating to the principle of non-refoulement. For UNHCR, the Rabat Process is an important forum of national states for dialogue and joint regional actions that not only address the situation of those travelling by sea or land – a central and urgent priority– but also contribute to finding solutions that ensure the effective and durable protection of refugees in a spirit of responsibility-sharing among states. In this context, the use of a variety of legal admission channels to other countries could be considered so that refugees do not have to move irregularly in search of safety. It is important to keep in mind that today 86% of the world’s refugees are living in developing countries, a percentage that ten years ago was 70%.
UNHCR appreciates the commitment made, under Pillar II, titled “Improve Border Management and Combat Irregular Migration”, to “ensuring respect for the fundamental rights of migrants at borders, by guaranteeing the right to request international protection”. In working towards this goal, we encourage dialogue, capacity building and cooperation among Rabat Process members on the profiling, identification and referral to specialized agencies of persons in need of protection at the border in accordance with international refugee and human rights’ law.
Furthermore, Pillar IV: Promote International Protection provides a detailed road map for action towards promoting international protection. In reinforcing legal, political and operational frameworks relating to international protection, UNHCR would propose that the Rabat Process acts as a convener bringing together interested States to take stock of developments on the adoption of national asylum policies and programs, to identify capacity needs and to set up support mechanisms to facilitate State action in putting in place protection sensitive responses to mixed migration.
Here, UNHCR’s 10 Point Plan of Action on Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration could serve as a useful reference framework and inspiration. The plan has found wide favour globally with governments and intergovernmental and non-governmental entities, and is increasingly resorted to as a planning tool, albeit one that has to rest in the end on the national and regional specificities. Reference to UNHCR’s 2011 publication The 10 Point in action, a compilation of useful practices which have been put in place to implement the 10 points in the plan, could inspire Rabat Process governments and partners to design and implement innovative new practices. Furthermore, we recommend that consideration is given to specific proposals made in the context of UNHCR’s Central Mediterranean Sea Initiative and the High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection at Sea held in December 2014 as they concern specific actions in ensuring protection at sea.
The first priority would be on saving lives through action to strengthen capacity for search and rescue of people in distress moving by land or sea as part of mixed population movements. Secondly, systems need to be put in place that provide for the screening, identification and referral to relevant procedures of different categories of people (asylum-seekers, refugees, trafficking victims, unaccompanied and separated children) on the basis of vulnerabilities and needs. Here, it is important to note that with conflicts and instability in Syria and elsewhere on the rise, many people moving as part of mass influxes are refugees and therefore entitled to the treatment envisaged under the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1969 OAU Convention. Thirdly, arrangements would be necessary for initial reception in humane and dignified conditions, the granting of a legal status on the basis of identified protection needs and identification of solutions and outcomes. The end result should be three-fold: people who need protection receive it in accordance with international law; those who do not, are assisted to return home or find other alternatives; and all people are treated with dignity while appropriate solutions are found.