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UN's Guterres Calls for More Protection of Refugees in Mediterranean


The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, has called for the creation of humanitarian space in the Mediterranean where refugees can get needed protection during asylum.

United Nations refugee chief, Antonio Guterres, has held talks with political leaders in Rome and discussed the development of the new European asylum system and the population flow from different countries into the Mediterranean.

He said it is important that the new system for Europe be the flagship for those seeking asylum.

"For us, it's very important that the European asylum system will not become a system defined by the minimum common denominator in Europe," he said.

Guterres said nations have the right to manage their borders and the right to define their own migration policies, but protection must be granted to those for those seeking protection.

Thousands flee from Northern Africa every year and head to Europe. Guterres called for the creation of a humanitarian space of protection in the Mediterranean.

"We recognize that these mixed population flows are essentially of migrant persons," he said. "But in between there are people in need of protection because they are refugees or asylum-seekers, they are women victims of trafficking, they are unaccompanied minors."

Guterres said cooperation with the Italian authorities is very good, particularly on the island of Lampedusa, where many immigrants and asylum-seekers arrive every year. But on the other side of the Mediterranean, there is lots of room for improvement.

"We have a small office in Libya, but we are not officially recognized by the government in our action and it would be very important that a space of protection, a humanitarian space of protection is created all around the Mediterranean," he added.

Libya has no asylum law or asylum procedures. Libyan officials say an asylum system is not required because the country has no asylum seekers or refugees. But Guterres feels differently and said UNHCR has asked the Italian government to support the agency to be able to achieve in Libya the recognition of its role.