UNHCR Urges EU Leaders to Unite Behind Emergency Plan

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has urged EU Leaders to unite behind emergency proposals to manage what it says is an “increasingly chaotic and unpredictable” refugee and migration crisis.

People relaxing at the Croatian government transit center in Opatovac, near the Serbian border. Photo: UNHCR/I.Pavicevic

People relaxing at the Croatian government transit center in Opatovac, near the Serbian border. Photo: UNHCR/I.Pavicevic

The comments come ahead of talks in Brussels on a response to the unfolding crisis by the bloc’s interior ministers and leaders on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.

UNHCR also warned the Brussels meetings may be the last opportunity for a coherent European response to manage a crisis that is increasing suffering and exploitation of refugees and migrants and tension between countries.

“This is a crisis of political will combined with lack of European unity that is resulting in management mayhem,” said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees in a statement issued today.

“When in 1956, 200,000 Hungarians fled to Austria and Yugoslavia, not only were people properly received, but a relocation program was quickly put into place and 140,000 people were relocated to other countries. What was possible then should be possible now,” he added.

Guterres said the EU Council meeting was absolutely crucial to overcome Europe’s divisions and create needed political commitment and momentum and stressed it was essential that 120,000 additional places be approved this week for any relocation programme to be credible.

UNHCR notes that the relocation programme cannot be effectively implemented without creating adequate reception facilities in countries where refugees and migrants enter Europe.

“With an average of 6,000 persons arriving every day on European shores, this requires a massive investment. Many tens of thousands of people are likely to require shelter and assistance at reception areas at any given time,” Guterres said.

However, he reiterated UNHCR’s stand that a relocation program alone, at this stage in the crisis, would not be enough to stabilize the situation.

UNHCR has proposed a number of measures towards the wider goal of helping Europe to collectively resolve a situation that can be managed, namely:

  • Support for establishment of reception facilities in Greece, and the expansion of existing ones in Italy. Similar facilities may also be needed in Serbia or in other EU member states people transit through.
  • Immediate start of relocation process for 40,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy agreed in August. This should be expanded by additional voluntary pledges from EU States. While Commission proposed 120,000 places, UNHCR believes these figures are likely to require an upward revision in the future;
  • Strengthening mechanisms for the humane return of people not in need of international protection, with support of Frontex and IOM.
  • Measures to stabilise situation in Europe’s neighbourhood, including additional humanitarian funding and structural support to countries hosting large refugee populations.
  • Increase in legal opportunities for refugees to access the EU, including enhanced resettlement and humanitarian admission, family reunification and humanitarian and student visas.

Holistic, Comprehensive Approach

The emergency situation currently facing Europe, which has seen 477,906 new sea arrivals this year, is primarily a refugee crisis.

The vast majority of those arriving in Greece and moving onwards come from conflict zones such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The emergency can only be addressed through a holistic and comprehensive approach, with all EU Member States working together in a constructive manner.

UNHCR has reiterated its deep conviction that only a united European emergency response can address the present refugee and migration crisis.

“Europe can no longer afford to continue with this fragmented approach that undermines efforts to rebuild responsibility, solidarity and trust among States and is creating chaos and desperation among thousands of refugee women, men and children,” Guterres declared, adding that after the many gestures by governments and citizens across Europe welcoming refugees, this now needed to be turned into a robust, joint European response.

UNHCR has stepped up its operations in Greece, FYR Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia to work with governments there to address the essential humanitarian needs of people as they arrive and transit through.