22 Oct 2016, 39 mins ago

Those facing the threat of extradition should exercise caution when seeking to travel abroad whether they are in possession of United Nations Travel Documents, other travel documents or passports, even where a ‘safe passage’ letter has been obtained from the country being visited

United Nations Travel Documents do not automatically mean safe passage for refugees with outstanding extradition requests.

Recognised refugees who are subject to persecutory extradition requests from their country of origin often find that their troubles do not end with the issuance of a United Nations Travel Document. Despite being granted refugee status and, in some cases, having defeated extradition proceedings, their extradition may still be sought either because INTERPOL Red Notices against them may still exist or because a request is made directly of the country being visited. This leaves them in the invidious position of risking further arrest whenever they travel abroad.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that, although 145 countries are signatories to the Refugee Convention, there is no provision in the Convention for refugee status granted by one of the States Parties to be recognised automatically by all the other States Parties.

In a bid to minimise the risks associated with travel whilst there is still an extradition threat in existence, refugees can instruct lawyers to seek a safe passage assurance from the country they wish to visit. Different countries react in different ways to such requests and, whilst any travel remains a risk, it is possible to obtain letters expressly saying that the country concerned will not act upon a Red Notice or direct extradition request in the light of the particular circumstances of the case.

Gherson has extensive experience in dealing with applications for safe passage (as well as applications for travel documents). It is impossible to generalise regarding the relative ‘safety’ of countries, as every case is fact-specific but it is important to note that even within the EU there are very real risks associated with travel in these circumstances.

The issue of safe passage in Greece

For example, Gherson has learnt from the United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR that there are no procedures in place for dealing with safe passage requests in Greece. UNHCR are aware that there have been a number of cases of refugees being arrested in Greece on Red Notices and subsequently subjected to extradition proceedings.

The situation in Spain

Similar concerns exist for other European countries including Spain, where it is commonplace for extradition proceedings to begin notwithstanding the fact that the requested person has been granted refugee status. Often this can lead to lengthy detention abroad.

The even more troubling situation in Germany

The situation in Germany is particularly troubling. Even if a refugee has been recognised in Germany by the German authorities this does not necessarily prevent their extradition back to their country of origin. On receipt of an extradition request in Germany a refugee will be automatically detained and in UNHCR’s experience it is almost impossible to secure release. Worryingly there have been a number of cases where the German authorities have extradited refugees back to their country of origin.


It is, therefore, extremely important that anyone who believes that they may be wanted for extradition internationally obtains proper advice before travelling – even within countries which might be perceived as ‘safe’. Even if you have defeated extradition in one country you may remain at risk of arrest whenever you travel.

Gherson has experience in representing those arrested abroad and has secured bail and ultimately defeated extradition requests in numerous countries but the best advice to anyone is to avoid the risk of arrest in the first place.

Safe passage requests are not limited to persons who hold a United Nations Travel Document. If you are subject to an INTERPOL Red Notice or believe that there may be requests made for your extradition and you wish to discuss the possibility of arranging safe passage please speak to a member of our team at Gherson to discuss your options.