18 September 2007Pressing forward in efforts to ensure that asylum-seekers have access to European Union (EU) territory and asylum procedures, the United Nations refugee agency today announced that it has signed an agreement to monitor activities along Slovakia’s land borders and at its airports. The pact – signed with the Slovak Aliens and Border Police and the Bratislava-based Human Rights League earlier this month – formalized the collaboration, roles and working methodologies, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis today told a press briefing in Geneva. UNHCR will fund regular missions to carry out the monitoring. Late last year, a similar agreement was reached with Hungary, and negotiations are currently being held with Slovenia and Poland towards a similar arrangement. “The countries which make up the EU’s eastern frontier – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia – face significant irregular migration, often facilitated by smuggling and trafficking networks,” Ms. Pagonis noted. “While the region has traditionally served as a point of transit, certain countries are increasingly becoming destination countries for both migrants and asylum seekers.” She added that monitoring the EU’s eastern border, which spans more than 2,600 kilometers, is one of UNHCR’s main activities in the region. In 2006, nearly 10,000 new asylum seekers were registered in the four eastern EU nations, compared with 14,600 in 2005 and 22,100 in 2004. “With the mix of migrants and asylum seekers, as well as the criminal elements involved in the profitable human-smuggling racket, law enforcement bodies tend to focus on stopping illegal migration rather than assisting asylum seekers,” the spokesperson said. The new agreements that UNHCR is working on are devised to ensure that asylum seekers receive the help and protection that they are entitled to under international law.