Warning Europe is running out of time to solve the current refugee situation, the UN refugee chief today outlined a detailed six-point plan ahead of a key meeting of European Union leaders and Turkey in Brussels next week.
“This is as much a crisis of European solidarity as it is a refugee crisis,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, in a
press release. “The collective failure to implement the measures agreed by EU Member States in the past has led to the current escalation in the crisis,” he added.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is highlighting that the situation is quickly deteriorating with some 30,000 people now in Greece, almost a third of whom are in Idomeni just near the border with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Although the Greek authorities and military have ramped up their response, thousands are sleeping in the open without adequate reception, services, aid or information. With tensions mounting, the situation could escalate quickly into a full-blown crisis.
But Mr. Grandi also said it is not too late if the right actions are taken now. "We are running out of time, and strong leadership and vision are urgently needed from European leaders to deal with what is, in our view, a situation that can still be managed if properly addressed," he stressed.
UNHCR is supporting the Greek Government's efforts by deploying staff, helping coordinate the response and providing emergency shelter, technical support and information to refugees and migrants.
Mr. Grandi's plan to EU Member States to manage and stabilize the refugee situation includes the relocation of asylum seekers out of Greece and Italy, and the return of individuals who do not qualify for refugee protection; stepping up support to Greece to handle the humanitarian emergency; ensuring compliance with all EU laws on asylum; making available more safe and legal ways for refugees to travel to Europe; safeguarding individuals at risk such as children who are unaccompanied; developing Europe-wide systems of responsibility for asylum-seekers, including the creation of registration centres in main countries of arrival.
UNHCR's proposals make clear that equitable sharing of responsibility is key to bringing about a managed and orderly solution, and that EU Member States would need to agree a system of percentages of asylum-seekers for each Member State to take.
"Europe has successfully dealt with large-scale refugee movements in the past, during the Balkans Wars for example, and can deal with this one, provided it acts in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility sharing," said High Commissioner Grandi.
"There is really no other option than working together to solve this," he added.