Working environment and response in 2020
The countries in South East Europe have extensive experience in receiving people in need of international protection including refugees, IDPs and stateless persons. During the 1990s, refugees and IDPs were mostly from within the region but over the past few years, an increasing number of people, among which are people in need of international protection, come from further afield, particularly from Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Pakistan, Palestine, the Syrian Arab Republic, Somalia and countries of North Africa. They transit to South East Europe through Turkey and Greece. The vast majority continue to move irregularly onward towards Western Europe. Many lodge multiple asylum claims in one or more of the south-eastern Europe countries while transiting, but the great majority depart before their asylum claims have been processed and their protection needs determined. On 1 July 2019, some 5,900 people were in the asylum process or had received refugee status.
As the European Union and its member states strengthen their border control mechanisms, an increasing number of people in mixed movements, among which some may be in need of international protection, continue to arrive in South East Europe. The existing asylum mechanisms are to date still neither sufficiently equipped nor adapted to this new situation, despite the efforts which have been made to build and develop the capacity of government counterparts (asylum offices, border police and other relevant ministries and institutions), including through training and other learning events, as well as through follow-up on legislative revisions to better identify and protect persons in need of international protection. Asylum capacities across the region need to be scaled up and strengthened to address existing gaps in the asylum cycle - from identification, referral and service provision, to determination of protection needs and status, and support for durable solutions, including returns when no international protection needs or other grounds for remaining in the host country have been identified. The EU accession process represents both an important vehicle and a unique opportunity to support the countries of the region in addressing these issues.
In addition, the region still hosts some 5,000 persons at risk of statelessness. The protection environment for persons at risk of statelessness in the region has improved with the introduction of new legislative provisions, in part due to UNHCR’s cooperation with the EU, Council of Europe, the OSCE and Ombudspersons’ offices. The positive trend is likely to continue with the recent accessions to the statelessness conventions, new stateless determination procedures and legislation changes that prevents or addresses statelessness. The lack of personal documents, as well as, in some countries, the collection of comprehensive data on persons at risk of statelessness remains a challenge.
UNHCR will continue to provide legal assistance and SGBV support to people displaced in the region during the conflicts of the 1990s while working closely with the OSCE to provide guidance and support to the Regional Housing Programme that should be completed at the end of 2021.
In 2020, UNHCR will target four main objectives:
1. Strengthen capacities of States and other stakeholders to address mixed movements and identify persons in need of international protection, through assistance in aligning their asylum legislation and practice with international and EU standards and ensuring its effective implementation through the deployment of a Quality Assurance initiative.
2. Create synergies between activities of relevant international and regional organizations and, building on ongoing initiatives and existing fora, identify areas where common approaches can be developed to provide more targeted support to States, so as to promote cost-effectiveness and avoid duplication of efforts.
3. UNHCR will continue to advocate for States to take measures to eliminate statelessness and will continue to provide legal assistance to people at risk of statelessness in the region.
4. Support States in South East Europe in finding durable solutions, including for displaced people from the region.