UK, Denmark propose refugee ‘safe areas’

Britain and Denmark announced plans to set up ‘safe areas’ for refugees in regions of conflict, despite opposition from other EU states.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office said Britain would go ahead with the proposals but dropped the more controversial issue of creating detention centres for refuges outside the EU was dropped.

A British government official the areas would ensure that the world’s refugees, often from poor countries in Asia and Africa, would be offered protection.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said this week that Britain had the United Nation’s refugee agency agency’s full support for the idea of creating so-called “protection zones” for refugees in conflict areas.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was certain that other EU states would launch their own trials.

“It would be perfectly natural that we as one of the countries supporting Britain also discuss with Britain how we do this in practice,” Rasmussen told a news conference.

But EU leaders rejected British plans for an EU-funded pilot project to test the idea on Thursday at a summit in the Greek resort of Porto Carras.

Rasmussen said the Commission would participate in any pilot projects, but a spokesperson from the EU’s executive body said that would be limited to monitoring the trials.

New procedures in UK will put
refugees in ‘safe areas’

“There was a list of problems we saw…Those problems remain. There are questions that must be answered before starting,” said Justice and Home Affairs spokesman Pietro Petrucci.

He said the trials could be a drag on EU efforts to harmonise asylum procedures, a statement echoed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE).

“(They) will pass the burden on to other European countries. Instead of going to Britain, the refugees will go to France and Germany,” said ECRE General Secretary Peer Banke.

In Geneva, a spokesman for the UNHCR denied a British claim that it backed setting up “zones of protection” for refugees in their areas of origin.

“UNHCR has not been talking about zones of protection. We’re not sure what this concept means,” spokesperson Kris Janowski said.

He said the agency wanted to improve protection for refugees in countries bordering their own by providing more aid and other assistance but “not in somehow containing them.” 

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