The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, has criticized a new European Union asylum draft directive, saying if implemented it would violate international standards of refugee protection.

The U.N. Refugee Agency says that in writing its new immigration rules, the 15-nation European Union is adopting the most restrictive practices of each member country.

UNHCR Spokesman, Rupert Colville, says he finds the get-tough attitude strange, as it comes at a time when asylum requests in Europe have plummeted. He says only 150,000 asylum applications were made in the first half of this year, the lowest in recent history. Moreover, he says, most refugees end up in developing countries, not in western Europe.

"And, that is another concern of ours because I think the developing countries will simply see this as rich Europe trying to essentially push the burden back on to them and they feel that they already have a very big burden, as indeed they do," said Mr. Colville. "And, that risks, you know, further unraveling, if you like, the international refugee protection system."

The U.N. Refugee Agency warns that under the draft EU text, asylum-seekers, including refugees, may be sent to countries where they might not be safe and to countries where they have never set foot.

Mr. Colville says EU countries could deport asylum-seekers while their cases were being reviewed under appeal.

"It could equally affect refugees who are simply confused or traumatized or ill-informed about the asylum process and do not make their case in the best possible way the first time around," he said. "And, to support that fear, in several European countries, between 30 and 60 percent recognized refugees are only recognized on appeal not during the first process."

EU Minister Counselor in Geneva Marianne Coninsx says the European Union understands that the new asylum system must be compatible with the basic international principles.

"It is clear that we are here in a process of building European law in a very, very sensitive area," said Ms. Coninsx. "The proposals that we are making may not be easy to be adopted because it concerns sensitive, politically sensitive issues for several of our member States. So the position of UNHCR and as it was expressed by High Commissioner [Mr.] Lubbers is for us the European Commission very important in this regard."

Ms. Coninsx acknowledges that the European Union might not succeed in adopting the new directive this week and will likely postpone a decision until next year.