Europe must change course on refugee crisis response, stresses UN agency

16 September 2015

Only a united European emergency response can address the current refugee and migration crisis, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stressed today.

Individual measures taken by countries will make an already chaotic situation worse, furthering suffering and increasing tensions among States at a time when Europe needs solidarity, the agency added in a news release.

UNHCR voiced particular concern about a series of restrictive measures recently introduced by Hungary which it said have resulted in extremely limited access for refugees at the country’s border.

New legislation in the country includes deterrence measures, some of which run contrary to international law and European jurisprudence when applied to asylum-seekers and refugees, cautioned UNHCR. Reports also indicate that only a few asylum-seekers have been permitted to enter Hungary via the official border crossing point.

“UNHCR reiterates its call on the Hungarian authorities to ensure unimpeded access for people in need of protection in line with its legal and moral obligations,” said High Commissioner António Guterres.

“States should manage their borders in a way that is consistent with international and EU Law, including guaranteeing the right to seek asylum,” he added.

UNHCR said it was “shocked and saddened” to witness Syrian refugees, including families with children who have already suffered so much, being prevented from entering the European Union with water cannons and tear gas.

Hungary has also begun to return asylum-seekers to Serbia, against UNHCR advice to governments. The asylum system Serbia is currently in the process of building is not able to cope with the magnitude of the current inflow of people, said the agency.

Responding to a question about what was happening at the Hungarian border, where police were reportedly firing water cannons and tear gas at people, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a news conference in New York that he was “shocked” to see how the refugees and migrants were treated.

“It’s not acceptable,” he stated, adding that refugees and migrants must be treated with human dignity and human rights.

Mr. Ban will convene a high-level meeting on 30 September to mobilize “a humane, effective and rights-based response” to the refugee crisis. “I urge all States to shoulder their responsibilities and live up to their legal obligations.”

On Tuesday, UNHCR proposed an emergency plan of action that called for the immediate creation of facilities in Greece to receive, assist, register and screen people arriving. It also called for the commencement of the relocation of 40,000 refugees to participating EU countries, as previously agreed, to be expanded with voluntary pledges by EU States.

It also asked for an emergency package from the EU to Serbia to establish sufficient capacity to assist, register and relocate people to other European countries, and stressed the need to substantially increase the opportunities for Syrian refugees being hosted in neighbouring countries to access legal channels to the EU.

As a growing number of refugees moves to enter Croatia, UNHCR has offered immediate support to the Croatian authorities and is mobilizing additional teams, relief items and equipment to Greece and Serbia.


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