Refugees and asylum seekers in central and eastern Europe

Reply to Recommendation 1278 (1995)

Doc. 7450

8 January 1996

COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMITTEE OF MINISTERS

adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 14 December 1995 at the 552nd meeting of the Ministers' Deputies


            The Committee of Ministers has carefully considered Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1278 (1995) on refugees and asylum seekers in central and eastern Europe and wishes to reiterate its deep sympathy with those persons that wars and conflicts force to leave their homes and land.

            The Parliamentary Assembly is obviously aware that the Council of Europe not being a humanitarian Organisation, the scope for its playing a significant role in the assistance to and resettlement of refugees and asylum-seekers is necessarily limited. However, the Council of Europe has taken a number of initiatives on which the Committee of Ministers is glad to report to the Assembly.

            As regards paragraph 6.i of the Recommendation, the Committee of Ministers recalls its reply to Recommendation 1236 (1994) on the right of asylum in which it signalled that "current deliberations within the Council of Europe and in other international fora do not seem to hold out the prospect in the near future resulting in a proposal designed to institute a right of territorial asylum for the benefit of political refugees within the framework of the European Convention on Human Rights". The Committee of Ministers sees no prospect of this situation changing substantially in the near future, as regards possible work in the intergovernmental context.

            Concerning paragraph 6.ii, the dissolution of the Vienna Group led the Committee of Ministers to request the Ad hoc committee of experts on the legal aspects of territorial asylum, refugees and stateless persons (CAHAR) and the European committee on migration (CDMG) to continue discussing migration flows and policies in Europe. The two committees, in collaboration with the Budapest Group and other international fora, made arrangements for the continuation of this discussion on a permanent basis. The Committee of Ministers authorized the CDMG to hold a special meeting (held on 21 November 1995) with its composition enlarged to include all the countries and organisations that used to take part in the work of the Vienna Group as well as members of the CAHAR. In 1996, the two Committees will hold a joint meeting devoted to the current pan-European migration situation.

            The Committee of Ministers shall consider in due course whether this system constitutes an adequate response to the needs created by the discontinuance of the Vienna Group; if necessary, more far-reaching solutions such as that recommended by the Assembly, could then be considered.

            In addition to this, these preoccupations will be introduced at the Conference of European ministers responsible for migration affairs to be held in Warsaw in June 1996, to which Recommendation 1278 has been communicated. On the proposal of the CDMG, the CAHAR is also participating in the preparation of that Conference. The latter will consider the role of the relevant Council of Europe bodies in connection with the pan-European migration questions and if appropriate make proposals for their reinforcement, bearing in mind the lines suggested by the Assembly.

            The Committee of Ministers considers that duplication of efforts and wasting of scarce financial resources should be carefully avoided when granting all the assistance required to the settlement and return of refugees. The current budgetary situation prevailing in most members states does not seem to hold out the prospect for the setting up of such fund as the Assembly is considering (paragraph 6.iv). However, member states actively support - also through financial contributions - the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to whose relentless efforts the Committee of Ministers pays tribute.

            As regards the Regional conference to address the problems of refugees, returnees, displaced persons and related migratory movements in the Commonwealth of Independent States and relevant neighbouring countries, which is prepared by UNHCR, the International Organisation on Migration and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (paragraph 6.v), the Council of Europe is actively involved in its preparatory process. The Secretariat has in particular been requested to make a substantial contribution to the drafting of the main documents of the Conference, notably the Declaration of principles and the Programme of Action. The two intergovernmental committees mostly concerned - CAHAR and CDMG - are kept regularly informed of the preparation of the Conference.

            As to paragraphs 6.vi, vii and viii, the CAHAR is continuously occupied with bringing closer asylum policies and practices of member and observer states. The content and impact of readmission agreements, among other items, are also examined by the CAHAR in the framework of discussions concerning the "safe third country" concept.

            These discussions take place against the backdrop of the Council of Europe's principles on asylum as well as of specific provisions such as those contained in Resolution (67) 14 and Recommendation No. R (94) 5 of the Committee of Ministers to member states, dutifully referred to by the Assembly.

            The Committee of Ministers shares the concern of the Assembly (paragraph 6.vii) that the abuse of the right of asylum - or the appearance of it -, inter alia, might fuel xenophobic attitudes in some quarters of member states' population. It recalls that combating this abuse is the responsibility of the states, in compliance with international agreements freely entered into such as the European Convention on Human Rights the provisions of which are increasingly relied upon by asylum-seekers whose applications have been rejected, with a view to making use of its mechanisms for the purpose of defending their interests.

            The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has put forward proposals for a protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights prohibiting discrimination - inter alia - on grounds of race or national origin, which will be considered with utmost attention by the Committee of Ministers.

            Significant results in the fight against racism, xenophobia and intolerance can only be achieved through education and awareness-raising. This is the purpose of the pan-European Youth campaign launched after the Vienna summit of the Council of Europe's Heads of State and government, which shall come to a close at the end of 1995. The ECRI is also at work on a substantial policy framework for combating racism, xenophobia and intolerance in the form of guiding principles.

            As regards paragraph 6.viii, the Committee of Ministers is convinced that such financial institutions as the Social Development Fund of the Council of Europe can play a significant role in helping European countries to cope with the problems created by the presence of refugees on their territory. It recalls that Article II of the new Articles of Agreement states that "the primary purpose of the Fund is to help in solving the problems with which European countries are or may be faced as a result  

            Accession by member states to the Fund would greatly simplify their access to the latter's financial resources which could help to solve the social problems to which the presence of refugees on their territory gives rise.

            The Committee of Ministers encourages the Fund and its member states to increase its activities in this priority field of action, in particular in those central and eastern European states which are least able to cope on their own with the social problems resulting from the presence of refugees and asylum seekers.

            The Committee of Ministers wishes to assure the Assembly that co-operation with international agencies active in the field of refugees law and assistance, such as the UNHCR and the IOM (paragraph 6.x), is a permanent feature of the work of the Secretariat.

            Finally, the Committee of Ministers informs the Assembly that Recommendation 1278 (1995) has been brought to the attention of the governments of member states.