UNHCR chief urges Europe to 'do more' for refugees

28th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

The European Union can and should do more to help the millions of refugees fleeing persecution worldwide, the boss of the UN refugee agency Antonio Guterres said Thursday.

The EU "has the capacity to enlarge its share of responsibility for refugees and asylum seekers," he said in a statement marking the 60th anniversary of the Geneva refugee convention.

"Europe could also do more to resettle refugees," added the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

According to UNHCR data, around four-fifths of the world's refugees are from developing countries, and so far it appears 2011 flows will reinforce the trend.

For example, since the start of the year, more than 170,000 people have fled famine and unrest in Somalia to neighbouring countries. Up to one million have also left war-torn Libya, while some 150,000 people have sought refuge in Liberia amid post-election violence in Ivory Coast.

"By comparison, the 27 countries of the European Union together received just over 243,000 asylum applications last year, or 29 percent of the total worldwide," the statement read.

"Europe owes it to these people, to all refugees, and to itself to uphold the values of the 1951 Refugee Convention," Guterres said.

Guterres added that the causes of displacement were also changing.

The 1951 convention defines as a refugee "a person with a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion."

But now, Guterres said "people are uprooted not just by conflict and persecution, but also by extreme poverty and the impact of climate change."

© 2011 AFP

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