Sharing the responsibility for refugees: A new global compact

An aerial view of the Za'atri refugee camp, Jordan, Wikimedia Commons

An aerial view of the Za’atri refugee camp, Jordan, Wikimedia Commons

Amnesty International, Sharing the responsibility for refugees: A new global compact, 9 May 2016, Index number: IOR 40/3906/2016

Wealthy states and the international community as a whole have failed to equitably share responsibility for managing the ongoing global refugee crisis. In his report In Safety and Dignity: Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, published today, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has proposed a “Global Compact on responsibility-sharing” to create a more predictable and equitable way of responding to large movements of refugees.

This briefing urges states to use key upcoming international meetings to move from short-term stop-gap measures to long-term, proactive and globally coordinated solutions.

At the UN General Assembly High-Level Plenary on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants in September 2016, states should adopt a new Global Compact on predictable and equitable refugee responsibility-sharing, based on international human rights and refugee law. The Global Compact should include:

  • A permanent distribution system of resettlement places, based on objective criteria;
  • In cases of large movements of refugees, an additional distribution system to admit refugees through expedited safe and legal routes (“legal pathways” for admission) based on objective criteria;
  • Guaranteed full, flexible and predictable funding for refugee protection and meaningful financial support to countries hosting large numbers of refugees, over and above existing development assistance programmes;
  • Strengthened refugee status determination systems and increased use of prima facie recognition of refugee status;
  • Respect, protection and fulfilment of the rights of refugees in their country of asylum, including the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living, access to education, healthcare and other services, and economic self-reliance.

Mr Cogito on the Need for Precision, Zbigniew Herbert, 1983

This post is dedicated to the memory of the refugees and migrants who died en route

Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert (1924-1998) first included Mr Cogito on the Need for Precision (Pan Cogito o potrzebie ścisłości) in the 1983 collection Report From The Besieged City and Other Poems (Raport z obłężonego miasta i inne wiersze). A commentary on the situation in Poland following the imposition of the martial law on 13 December 1981, the book was published in Paris and did not become officially available in Poland until 1992.

Mr Cogito on the Need for Precision is often quoted in works on the role of memory in the aftermath of widespread serious human rights violations (see, for example, this blog post by Patrick Krup). More practically, I like to think about it as a manifesto for accuracy and documentation in human rights work.



Mr Cogito
is alarmed by a problem
in the domain of applied mathematics

the difficulties we encounter
with operations of simple arithmetic

children are lucky
they add apple to apple
subtract grain from grain
the sum is correct
the kindergarten of the world
pulsates with a safe warmth

particles of matter have been measured
heavenly bodies weighed
and only in human affairs
inexcusable carelessness reigns supreme
the lack of precise information

over the immensity of history
wheels a spectre
the spectre of indefiniteness

How many Greeks were killed at Troy
– we don’t know

to give the exact casualties
on both sides
in the Battle of Gaugamela
at Agincourt

And also the number of victims
of terror
of the white
the red
the brown
– O colours innocent colours –

– we don’t know
truly we don’t know

Mr Cogito
rejects the sensible explanation
that it was long ago
the wind has thoroughly mixed the ashes
the blood flowed to the sea

sensible explanations
intensify the alarm
of Mr Cogito

because even what
is happening under our eyes
evades numbers
loses the human dimension

somewhere there must be an error
a fatal defect in our tools
or a sin of memory


a few simple examples
from the accounting of victims

in an aeroplane disaster
it is easy to establish
the exact number of the dead

important for heirs
and those plunged in grief
the insurance companies

We take the list of passengers
and the crew
next to each name
we place a little cross

it is slightly harder
in the case
of train accidents

bodies torn to pieces
have to be put back together
so no head
remains ownerless

during elemental
the arithmetic
becomes complicated

we count those who are saved
but the unknown remainder
neither alive
nor definitely dead
is described by a strange term
the missing

they still have the chance
to return to us
from fire
from water
the interior of the earth

if they return – that’s fine
if they don’t – too bad



now Mr Cogito
to the highest tottering
step of indefiniteness

how difficult it is to establish the names
of all those who perished
in the struggle with inhuman power

the official statistics
reduce their number
once again pitilessly
they decimate those who have died a violent death
and their bodies disappear
in the abysmal cellars
of huge police buildings

blinded by gas
deafened by salvos
by fear and despair
are inclined toward exaggeration

accidental observers
give doubtful figures
accompanied by the shameful
word ‘about’

and yet in these matters
accuracy is essential
we must not be wrong
even by a single one

we are despite everything
the guardians of our brothers

ignorance about those who have disappeared
undermines the reality of the world

it thrusts into the hell of appearances
the devilish net of dialectics
proclaiming there is no difference
between the substance and the spectre

therefore we have to know
to count exactly
call by the first name
provide for a journey

in a bowl of clay
millet poppy seeds
a bone comb
and a ring of faithfulness


Zbigniew Herbert, ‘Mr Cogito on the Need for Precision’, in Report from the Besieged City and Other Poems, Translated with and Introduction and Notes by John Carpenter and Bogdana Carpenter, Oxford University Press 1987


For additional information on the human rights violations during the Polish martial law, see Amnesty International’s Annual Report 1982 (p280-285) and Annual Report 1983 (p265-270).

Global #migration and #refugee governance outlook 2016

Thank you to Stefan Rother for this precious advocacy diary!

The GFMD, Migration, Development and Human Rights

GFMD Bangladesh“2016 has well become THE migrant year”, stated Peter Sutherland, UN Secretary Generals’ Special Representative for International Migration, in a recent webinar. Obviously, migration has been brought to the top of the international agenda for some time now, but this year will see a number of high-level events addressing the issue. This post will provide an overview – without neglecting the agency of migrants and their organizations themselves and their upcoming events.

View original post 601 more words

Litigating human rights 1/2: Amnesty International’s interventions before international tribunals

Faroe_stamp_131_amnesty_international FREE COPYRIGHTAmnesty International is known for being a vocal organisation: many of its activities are carried out publicly, via petitions, demonstrations, declarations. A large part of Amnesty International’s work, however, happens quietly, in backstage meetings and private conversations. Or before national and international courts and tribunals, where Amnesty International often appears as a third party or amicus curiae.

This post lists selected international cases in which Amnesty International has intervened, most often as a third party or an amicus curiae. It is a tribute to all the women and men who have contributed their vision and passion to this work, as well as to the lawyers who have lent their professional skills to human rights, representing Amnesty International pro bono.

Fore more info, have a look at: Dean Zagorac, “International Courts and Compliance Bodies: The Experience of Amnesty International”, in Tullio Treves (ed.), Civil Society, International Courts and Compliance Bodies (T.M.C. Asser Press, 2005), p11 ff.

International Courts

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Amnesty International submitted several communications to the African Commission under Article 55 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Amnesty International v Zambia, communication no. 212/98

Amnesty International and others v Mauritania, Communications no. 54/91, 61/91, 96/93, 98/93, 164/97, 196/97, 210/98

  • Decision, 27th Ordinary Session, Algiers, 27 April – 11 May 2000

Amnesty International and others v Sudan, Communcations Nos. 48/90, 50/91, 52/91 and 89/93

  • Decision, 26th Session, Kigali, 1–15 November 1999

Amnesty International v Tunisia, Communications no. 69/92 and 79/92

  • Decision, 13th Ordinary Session, Banjul, 29 March – 7 April 1993

Chutan (on behalf of Banda) and Amnesty International (on behalf of Orton and Vera Chirwa) v Malawi, Communications Nos. 64/92, 68/92, AND 78/92

  • Decision, 17th Session, Lomé, 13–22 March 1995

Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

Civil Society Associations Gambia (CSAG) v Gambia

 SERAP v Federal Republic of Nigeria

Court of Justice of the European Union

X, Y and Z v Minister voor Immigratie, Integratie en Asiel (Minister for Immigration, Integration and Asylum), Joined Cases C-199/12, C-200/12, C-201/12

N.S. v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Case C-411/10) and M.E. & Others v ORAC (Case C-493/10)

European Court of Human Rights

Husayn (Abu Zubaydah) v Poland, Application No. 7511/13

A. P. and others v France, application no. 79885/12

  • Written comments submitted jointly by Amnesty International, ILGA Europe and Transgender Europe (TGEU), 24 July 2015

M.E. v Sweden, application no. 71398/12

  • Written submissions on behalf of Amnesty International, 11 April 2013 [on file with Amnesty International]
  • Judgment (Merits and Just Satisfaction) of the Court (Fifth Section), 26 June 2014

Alekhina and others v Russia, application no. 38004/12

  • Written submissions on behalf of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, 14 April 2014 [on file with Amnesty International]

Al Nashiri v Romania, application no. 33234/12

Tarakhel v. Switzerland, application no. 29217/12

Abu Zubaydah v Lithuania, application no. 46454/11

S.A.S. v. France, Application No. 43835/11

Al Nashiri v Poland, Application No. 28761/11

El-Masri v. the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, application no. 39630/09

Hämäläinen v. Finland, application no. 37359/09

  • Written observations of Amnesty International, 13 September 2013 [on file with Amnesty International]
  • Judgment (Merits and Just Satisfaction) of the Court (Grand Chamber), 16 July 2014

M.S.S. v Belgium and Greece, Application No. 30696/09

Hirsi Jamaa and Others v Italy, application no. 27765/09

  • Written submissions on behalf of the AIRE Centre (Advice on Individual Rights in Europe), Amnesty International and the Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’Homme (FIDH) [on file with Amnesty International]
  • Judgment (Merits and Just Satisfaction) of the Court (Grand Chamber), 23 February 2012
  • Amnesty International, Italy: ‘Historic’ European Court judgment upholds migrants’ rights, public statement, 23 February 2012

Sharifi and Others v. Italy and Greece, application no. 16643/09

Othman (Abu Qatada) v. the United Kingdom, application no. 8139/09

P and S v Poland, Application No. 57375/08

Z v Poland, Application No. 46132/08

  • Written submissions on behalf of Amnesty International [on file with Amnesty International]
  • Judgment (Merits and Just Satisfaction)  of the Court (Fourth Section), 13 November 2012

Janowiec and Others v. Russia, application Nos. 55508/07 and 29520/09

X and others v. Austria, application No. 19010/07

Jones and Others v the United Kingdom, applications no. 34356/06 and 40528/06

  • See below for the UK proceedings
  • Written comments by Redress, Amnesty International, Interights and Justice, 20 February 2010
  • Judgment (Merits and Just Satisfaction) of the Court (Fourth Section), 14 January 2014

Ramzy v the Netherlands, Application No. 25424/05

  • Written comments by Amnesty International and six others, 22 November 2005
  • Judgment (Struck out of the List) of the Court (Third Section), 20 July 2010


  • Written comments submitted by Amnesty International, Conscience and Peace Tax International, Friends World Committee for Consultation (Quakers), International Commission of Jurists, War Resisters’ International, Index POL 31/001/2010, 15 July 2010
  • Judgment (Merits and Just Satisfaction) of the Court (Grand Chamber), 7 July 2011

Tahsin Acar v Turkey, application no. 26307/95

  • Written submissions on behalf of Amnesty International [not available]
  • Judgment (Preliminary Objection) of the Court (Grand Chamber), 6 May 2003

Assenov and Others v Bulgaria, application no. 24760/94

  • Written comments on behalf of Amnesty International, 13 February 1998 [not available]
  • Judgment (Merits and Just Satisfaction) of the Court (Chamber), 28 October 1998

Kurt v Turkey, application no. 24276/94

  • Written submissions on behalf of Amnesty International [not available]
  • Judgment (Merits and Just Satisfaction) of the Court (Chamber), 25 May 1998


  • Written submissions on behalf of Amnesty International [not available]
  • Judgment (Merits and Just Satisfaction) of the Court (Grand Chamber), 25 September 1997

Chahal v the United Kingdom, Application no. 22414/93

Akdivar and Others v Turkey, Application No. 21893/93

  • Written submissions on behalf of Amnesty International [not available]
  • Judgment (Merits and Just Satisfaction) of the Court (Grand Chamber) 16 September 1996

McCann and others v the United Kingdom, application no.18984/91

John Murray v the United Kingdom, application no. 18731/91

  • Written comments on behalf of Amnesty International and Justice [not available]
  • Judgment (Merits and Just Satisfaction) of the Court (Grand Chamber), 8 February 1996

Brannigan and McBride v the United Kingdom, application nos. 14553/89 and 14554/89

  • Written comments on behalf of Amnesty International [not available]
  • Judgment (Merits and Just Satisfaction) of the Court (Plenary), 26 May 1993

Soering v United Kingdom, Application No. 14038/88

  • Written comments on behalf of Amnesty International [not available]
  • Judgment (Merits and Just Satisfaction) of the Court (Plenary), 7 July 1989

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

Case No.: 002/19-09-2007-ECCC-OCIJ-PTC

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Paloma Angélica Escobar Ledezma and others v Mexico, case 12.551

  • Amicus curiae brief on behalf of Amnesty International, 10 July 2007 [not available]
  • Report No. 51/13, 12 July 2013

Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group v. Canada, Petition 592-07

Luis Gabriel Caldas León v Colombia, case 11.596

  • Amicus curiae brief on behalf of Amnesty International [not available]
  • Report No. 137/10, 23 November 2010

Inter-American Court of Human Rights, contentious cases

Mendoza et al. v. Argentina

  • Amicus curiae brief presented by Amnesty International [not available]
  • Judgment of 14 May 2013 (Preliminary Objections, Merits and Reparations), Series C No. 260

Karen Atala Riffo and daughters v Chile (Case 12.502)

  • Amici curiae brief presented by Amnesty International and fifteen others, 8 September 2011
  • Judgment of 24 February 2012 (Merits, Reparations and Costs), Series C No. 239

Radilla Pacheco v. Mexico

González et al. (“Cotton Field”) v. Mexico

  • Amici curiae brief in support of petitioners presented by Amnesty International and others, 7 July 2009
  • Judgment of 16 November 2009 (Preliminary Objection, Merits, Reparations and Costs), Series C No. 205

Ronald Ernesto Raxcacó Reyes v Guatemala

Cayara v. Peru

  • Amnesty International joined Americas Watch as co-complainant in the case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
  • Judgment of the Court (Preliminary Objections), 3 February 1993, Series C No. 14

Fairen-Garbi and Solis-Corrales v Honduras

  • Brief of Amnesty International as amicus curiae, 7 January 1988 [not available]
  • Judgment of the Court (Merits), 15 March 1989, Series C No. 6

Godinez-Cruz v Honduras

  • Brief of Amnesty International as amicus curiae, 7 January 1988 [not available]
  • Judgment of the Court (Merits), 20 January 1989, Series C No. 5

Velasquez-Rodriguez v Honduras

  • Brief of Amnesty International as amicus curiae, 7 January 1988 [not available]
  • Judgment of the Court (Merits), 29 July 1988, Series C No. 4

Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Advisory Opinions

Request of Advisory Opinion submitted by the State of Panama

  • Request of Advisory Opinion submitted by the State of Panama, 28 April 2014
  • Written observations by Amnesty International submitted pursuant to Article 73(3) of the Rules of Procedure of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, 30 March 2015

Legislative measures concerning the mandatory imposition of the death penalty and related matters

  • Request of Advisory Opinion presented by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, 20 April 2004
  • Written observations presented by Amnesty International, Index IOR 62/005/2004, 8 December 2004
  • Order of the Court, 24 June 2005 (Spanish only)

The Right to Information on Consular Assistance in the Framework of the Guarantees of the due Process of Law

  • Brief of Amnesty International as amicus curiae [not available]
  • Advisory Opinion OC-16/99 of 1 October 1999, Series A No.16

Judicial Guarantees in States of Emergency (Arts. 27(2), 25 and (8) American Convention on Human Rights)

International Court of Justice

Jurisdictional Immunities of the State (Germany v. Italy: Greece intervening)

International Criminal Court

The Prosecutor v Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, case no. ICC-01/05 -01/08

  • Amnesty International’s Application for leave to submit amicus curiae observations pursuant to Rule 103 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence, no. ICC-01/05-01/08-399, 6 April 2009
  • Decision on Application for leave to submit amicus curiae observations
    pursuant to Rule 103 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence of the Pre-Trial Chamber II, no. ICC-01/05-01/08-401, 9 April 2009
  • Amnesty International’s Amicus curiae observations on superior responsibility, No. ICC-01/05-01/08-406, 20 April 2009

Special Court for Sierra Leone

Prosecutor v. Brima et al., Case No.SCSL-2004-16-AR73

  • Order of the Appeals Chamber on the appointment of amicus curiae, 2 December 2005
  • Corrigendum to the Order of the Appeals Chamber on the appointment of amicus curiae, 2 December 2005
  • Amicus curiae brief of Amnesty International concerning the public interest information privilege, 16 December 2005
  • Decision of the Appeals Chamber on Prosecution appeal against Decision on oral application for witness TF1-150 to testify without being compelled to answer questions on grounds of confidentiality

Positive development, action suspended: UA 239/15 Australia (ASA 12/2717/2015) – Safety and health of Somali refugee at risk

The Australian government has declared today that Abyan will be allowed back to Australia for medical treatment and mental health support.

In the light of these declaration, we would be grateful if you could suspend any action taken in relation to Abyan’s case until further notice. We are monitoring her situation and will issue an update to the UA shortly.

Many thanks for your action and support.

URGENT ACTION: Safety and health of Somali refugee at risk

A 23-year-old Somali refugee, allegedly raped in July on the island nation of Nauru, in the Central Pacific, is now 15 weeks pregnant. She is in urgent need of an abortion and mental health care. After bringing her to Australia to have an abortion, which was not carried out, the government of Australia unlawfully returned her to Nauru, where her safety and health are at risk.

Amnesty International UA: 239/15 Index: ASA 12/2717/2015 Issue Date: 22 October 2015

Abyan (not her real name), a 23-year-old Somali refugee, requested the Australian authorities to allow her into Australia to have an abortion after falling pregnant as a result of an alleged rape in July in Nauru, an island nation in the Central Pacific. Abortion services are not available in Nauru and abortion is criminalized.

In 2013 Abyan tried to reach Australia by boat to seek asylum and arrived on Christmas Island (a territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean) in October 2013. As part of its “offshore processing” policy, the Australian government forcibly transferred her to Nauru for her asylum claim to be determined there. At the time of the alleged rape, in July 2015, Abyan was living in Nauru after having been recognised as a refugee.

Following several requests to the Australian authorities, the Australian government brought her to Australia to terminate her pregnancy on 11 October and held her at the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in Sydney. As she missed a medical appointment, on 16 October the Australian government flew her back to Nauru, where her safety and health are at risk.

The government of Australia claims that Abyan changed her mind about terminating her pregnancy while in Australia. She denies the claims and has made clear that she still wants an abortion. The Australian government unlawfully returned her to Nauru without giving her the possibility to challenge her transfer in court.

Please write immediately in English or your own language:

  • Urging the Australian authorities to ensure Abyan’s health and safety by immediately transferring her to Australia;
  • Calling on them to ensure that Abyan has access to all appropriate medical and psychological services, including access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information in a language she understands and in accordance with her wishes;
  • Calling on them to guarantee Abyan’s right to information about, and access to, safe and legal abortion services in accordance with her wishes.


Prime Minister
The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, MP
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Fax: +61 2 6277 4100
Twitter: @TurnbullMalcolm
Salutation: Dear Prime Minister

Minister for Immigration and Border Protection
The Hon. Peter Dutton MP
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Fax: +61 2 6277 4100
Twitter: @PeterDutton_MP
Salutation: Dear Minister

For Twitter posts:

Abyan's note to the Australian authorities, 18 October 2015, source:

Abyan’s note to the Australian authorities, 18 October 2015, source:

Additional information

At a minimum, abortion services should be made available where pregnancy is the result of a ‘sexual crime’ such as rape. This service should be offered to any woman presenting herself to medical staff requesting a termination of pregnancy on these grounds, without being compelled to undergo unnecessary administrative or judicial procedures, such as pressing charges against the perpetrator or identifying the rapist. Denying Abyan an abortion in these circumstances violates the right to privacy and to health and the right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment.

In November 2012, the government of Australia announced that asylum-seekers arriving in Australia by boat would be “processed” (i.e. their asylum claim would be determined) in the offshore migration detention centres on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) and Nauru. Australia started transferring asylum-seekers to the two facilities immediately.

According to official statistics, as of 31 August 2015, 653 people (446 men, 114 women and 93 children, including infants) were detained at the Nauru migration detention centre.
A recent Australian government review by Australia’s former integrity commissioner Philip Moss (the Moss Review) detailed allegations of sexual harassment and sexual and physical violence at the Nauru migration detention centre. The Moss Review found that, since the reopening of the centre on Nauru in August 2012 the facility has operated without appropriate policies and procedures to protect detainees from physical and sexual assault. The review detailed numerous allegations of sexual exploitation, sexual harassment and sexual assault within the centre, including cases of rape. Victims of sexual assault included women and children, and highlighted that many asylum-seekers detained in the centre hold concerns about their personal safety and privacy within the facility.

When their claim for asylum is determined, refugees in Nauru are allowed to leave the detention centre. They are not, however, allowed to relocate to Australia, where they intended to seek asylum in the first place.

Several asylum seekers and refugees have publicly reported concerns about their safety on Nauru. According to media sources, there have been at least 20 sexual assaults on asylum seekers and refugees in Nauru in the past year.

On 5 October the government of Nauru declared that the centre would become an “open centre” and that detention of all asylum seekers would be ended. Nauran authorities have refused entry to international media and human rights organizations, making it impossible to verify the situation.

Since early 2014, Amnesty International has requested three times permission from the government of Nauru to visit. The first request was denied and subsequent requests have not been responded to.

Abortion is criminalized under the domestic legislation of Nauru. The Criminal Code of Nauru punishes abortion with fourteen years of imprisonment with hard labour (Article 224); a woman who causes or allows her own miscarriage or abortion is liable to imprisonment with hard labour for seven years.

Name: Abyan (not her real name)
Gender m/f: f

Amnesty International UA: 239/15 Index: ASA 12/2717/2015 Issue Date: 22 October 2015


The EU is in dangerous territory with “safe” country lists for asylum-seekers

Lampedusa (Photo: noborder network/ Sara Prestianni)

Lampedusa (Photo: noborder network/ Sara Prestianni)

On 20 July the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council recommended that EU member states assess whether to include Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo) in a possible common EU list of “safe countries of origin”. However, the “safe countries of origin” concept has little to do either with EU member states’ human rights obligations or with an evidence-based, rational assessment of the current reality of asylum in Europe.

Since 2005, EU law allows member states to designate certain countries as “safe” to make the asylum process quicker and cheaper. The asylum applications of those from “safe” countries can be examined at the border or in transit zones and in fast-track procedures. But quick and cheap can come at the expense of legality and fairness.

“Safe countries of origin” procedures are inherently unfair. The general presumption is that a country on the “safe” list does not “normally” produce refugees, so its nationals’ asylum claims are unfounded. It is up to the asylum seeker to prove otherwise – which is difficult to do, since documents and other evidence are often lost during long and turbulent journeys. The task becomes almost impossible since national accelerated procedures for “safe” countries impose strict time limits, which can be as short as two or three days.

Not only is this unfair; it is inherently discriminatory. What “safe countries of origin” procedures ultimately boil down to is that some asylum seekers are presumed to be bogus solely on the basis of their nationality. The prohibition of discrimination based on nationality is one of the most fundamental principles of international law, recognized in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and numerous others international agreements. Only three days after the EU decision, Canada’s Federal Court struck down as unconstitutional and discriminatory a government decision to designate 26 EU countries and the USA as “safe countries of origin” (2015 FC 892).

The assumption that people coming from certain countries do not need protection because their country is inherently “safe” runs against one of the key foundations of refugee law, i.e. the individual nature of the need for international protection. The idea that someone’s risk of being persecuted may be assessed on the basis of whether or not there is “generally” persecution in their country is simplistic. In fact, specific individuals (journalists, lawyers, opposition leaders, human rights defenders or members of ethnic or religious minorities) face persecution exactly because of what makes them the individual that they are: their gender, race, ethnicity, political and religious beliefs, sexual orientation, etc.

For this reason, even countries that portray themselves as “generally safe” can produce asylum seekers and refugees. EU countries are no exception. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), at the end of 2014 nearly 50,000 people from the 28 EU member states had been recognized as refugees around the world, while a further 3,000 EU nationals were waiting for their asylum case to be decided (source: UNHCR Global Trends 2014).

With respect to Western Balkan countries, the EU decision ignores that in 2014 the French Conseil d’Etat and the Belgian Conseil d’Etat respectively withdrew Kosovo and Albania from their country’s list of “safe countries of origin”. The decision also ignores the fact that in certain states within the Balkans, specific groups may be at real risk of persecution. Few countries are, for example, able to provide LGBTI people or independent journalists whose lives are at risk with adequate protection. In Kosovo, UNHCR has identified a number of groups at “particular risk of persecution or serious harm… including through cumulative discriminatory acts”, including Serbs and Albanians in a minority situation and Roma.

So, if there is no such thing as a “safe country of origin”, what was behind the EU decision to potentially consider Western Balkan states as “safe”? The decision mentions these countries’ “European perspective” and the fact that their nationals are exempt from visa requirements. In other words, Western Balkans countries may be considered to be “safe” merely because they are or may become candidates for EU accession, not because of their ability to respect, protect and promote human rights. The arbitrary nature of any determination of “safe countries of origin”, either at the EU or at the national level, is evident.

In sum, “safe countries of origin” procedures are unfair, unlawful and absurd. The possible selection of Western Balkans countries is superficial and arbitrary. The very substantive danger of returning to persecution someone whose asylum claim is valid should outweigh any consideration based on expediency.

Thank you to: Nicola Delvino, Conor Fortune, Sian Jones and Anna Shea.

How to cite this article:
Francesca Pizzutelli, “The EU is in dangerous territory with “safe” country list for asylum-seekers”, The Rights Angle,, 24 July 2015.