A European approach to protecting refugees: conference in Budapest - Refugee Council
October 22, 2010

A European approach to protecting refugees: conference in Budapest

By Jonathan, Policy and Development team

Just back from the annual general conference for ECRE in Budapest.

ECRE is the European Council for Refugees and Exiles and has a  membership of 70 organisations working in 30 countries both within and outside Europe – and of course there is the added advantage for us of the common language being English.

The meeting had particular significance as it was held in Budapest (the Hungarian Government takes over the EU Presidency next year) and this was brought to life when, in the opening comments by the Hungarian Minister, he made a point of thanking those Western European nations which had offered refuge to Hungarians after the 1956 uprising. The very next intervention came from a representative of the Danish Refugee Council who proudly said that her organisation had been set up in 1956 to respond to the Hungarian crisis.

One of the most interesting speeches came from Morten Kjaerum, Director of the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA). He spoke of the EU’s approach to human rights having been ‘impressionistic’ in the past, but that the FRA had been set up in 2007 to fill the gaps and to produce an evidence base for these fundamental rights. In the UK we need to give more attention to the pan European evidence gathering undertaken by the FRA.

Possibly the most useful statistic of the conference then came from the Secretary General of ECRE, Bjarte Vandvik, who told us that while last year there had been 200,000 asylum applications across Europe, there were also 400,000 border guards. An interesting ratio of two border guards for every one asylum seeker.

We also had an inspirational speech from Frank Sharry, the Executive Director of America’s Voice (AV). This is a relatively new organisation in the US, working closely with existing refugee and migrant NGOs, and it focuses on moving the US refugee and migrant sector ‘from defence to offence.’

Finally we heard about ECRE’s new strategy, and it is excellent that ECRE is focussed on ensuring that the voices of refugees are heard within the corridors of power in the EU. I spoke up strongly in support of this goal and promoted our partnership work with refugee comminity organisations to our European partners.

So an invigorating conference – we now need to tap the energy of those three days into creating a pan European campaigning movement in defence of asylum seekers and refugees.