Erika Feller’s Comments Regarding Boat People and Irregular Secondary Movements

During her annual address to the UNHCR’s Executive Committee on 6 October, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller reviewed significant protection issues over the past year, noting also that 2010 marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the UNHCR in December 1950 and the 59th anniversary of the Refugee Convention.

Among the topics she addressed were the challenges posed by the arrival of irregular secondary movements of migrants, including boat people.  She is critical of interdiction practices being carried out throughout the world and makes the strong point that “[t]he evidence suggests that tough sea policies have not solved, just changed and indeed complicated the dynamics, of irregular movements.”  While Ms. Feller does not identify countries by name, she is apparently referencing increased maritime interdiction in the Aegean Sea and the resulting surge in irregular crossings along Greece’s land borders.  The point could also be made in regard to the Italian push-back practice.

Excerpts from her address:

“Arrivals of undocumented migrants continue to test the capacity of States, with the problem of so-called “irregular secondary movement” exacerbated in recent years by boat arrivals. The Pacific, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean or the Gulf of Aden are all regular theatres, with ‘boatpeople’ being interdicted, intercepted, turned around, ignored by passing ships, shot at, or denied landing. Even when rescued, disembarkation somewhere has no guarantees attached, as an incident currently playing out off the Somalia/Djibouti coasts starkly reminds us.

All this is seriously at odds not only with protection principles but also with the reality that when they manage to gain access to territory and asylum processes, a large percentage of asylum-seekers who come by boat are actually found to be refugees. …

Boat arrivals can provoke fears and high emotions which may be difficult for Governments to manage. However, in our experience, an approach built predominantly around closing borders and trying to prevent movement is not the answer, as it does not work. In fact it can make situations even more difficult to deal with. Developments in relation to one country that has pursued a tough policy towards boats are actually quite revealing. While arrivals by sea are dramatically down, arrivals by land have basically doubled. In addition, while sea arrivals had been able to be concentrated through being channeled to one main reception point, land arrivals now come through multiple crossing points and have been able to disperse more effectively and rapidly through the community, below any radar screen. The evidence suggests that tough sea policies have not solved, just changed and indeed complicated the dynamics, of irregular movements….

The phenomenon of refugees on the move for non-protection reasons is also growing. Numbers and categories vary with the regions but the concern is global. On the African continent, where camps are more the norm than the exception, it is preoccupying that camp environments are starting to be compromised by a form of transit migration to and through them, with refugees, and others, seeking to use their facilities for R&R en route to a more distant destination. Just as concerning has been the misuse of reception centers as way-stations, or even lucrative recruitment opportunities for smugglers and traffickers. These facts are not a rationale for abandoning camps or centers. They are, though, a solid reason to rethink how better to manage them within a burden sharing framework….”

Click here for full address.


Filed under Aegean Sea, European Union, Greece, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, News, Statements, UNHCR

2 responses to “Erika Feller’s Comments Regarding Boat People and Irregular Secondary Movements

  1. Steve Vu

    There are 3 phases that boat people must go through:
    1. Leaving their origin: We should look at the legality rather than locality because of the same reason, a better life. To risk life, itself, in hope of harboring a safe one is contradictory both in term and in reality.
    2. In transit: Life is hanging by a thread.
    3. Arrival: Final destination is not a refugee camp without any recourse.

    How much does a life worth, more than this?
    How much land does a man need?

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