Tuesday, 21 November 2017

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'EU risks becoming irrelevant,' says UN Refugee chief

Best Guerres Press Conference 09 2015 1

15.9.2015 - The United Nations High Commissioner for refugees has warned the EU that if it does not act on the current refugee problem, it will become irrelevant in international affairs.

Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, the High Commissioner, Mr. António Guterres said,  “This is a moment of truth for the EU. Either it acts, or it will become irrelevant in international affairs”.

Guterres compared the situation now to the aftermath of the Soviet intervention in Hungary in 1956, when 200 000 Hungarians escaped their home country.

“In the end, 180,000 were resettled from Austria and Yugoslavia to a total of 37 different countries – the first 100,000 of them in under ten weeks,” Mr. Guterres said.  “The European Union did not make the same progress, which I regret”, said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, during a press conference in Brussels today, referring to the European Council meeting yesterday.

UNHCR staffer helps refugees and migrants to register at the local police station on Kos Island in Greece. Photo UNHCRS. BaltagiannisGuterres criticised the newly established border controls in some countries that, according to him, create a very “worrisome situation for UNHCR”. “Borders will make people suffer, and facilitate the situation for smugglers and opportunists.” Last week, the head of the UN refugee agency laid out a set of key guidelines which he said should underpin all efforts to resolve the current refugee and migration crisis facing Europe.  The European Union, he said,  faced a "defining moment" while facing a situation that primarily is a refugee crisis, not only a migration phenomenon.

The High Commissioner pointed out that the reasons for the massive influx of Syrian refugees we see today is loss of hope for the civilians, and severe cuts in life-saving assistance in the neighbouring countries’ refugee camps as a result of lack of funding. WFP has been forced to cut down on food assistance with 40 %.

“In an ideal world, there would be a common European asylum policy and refugees could move freely within the EU. But that is not the case”, said Guterres, calling for legal alternatives to reach safety in Europe. With legal ways, fewer people in need of international protection will be forced to resort to smugglers and undertake dangerous, irregular journeys.

Welcoming the proposed relocation scheme for 160 000 refugees from Greece, Italy and Hungary, Guterres stressed that initial estimates indicate even higher needs and require a plan B.

Near the town of Gevgelija former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia a young Syrian girl holds the hand of an adult waiting to board a train to the Serbian border. Photo UNICEFTomislav Georgiev“A plan B is necessary. We can’t wait until October for another meeting of the European Council who then reverts back to the European Parliament, then back to the European Council… the Union has 500 million people – it’s a manageable situation, and it needs to be managed.”

Guterres called for immediate and adequate emergency reception, assistance, registration and screening capacity building on the “hotspots” concept in Greece, Hungary and Italy.

The vast majority of those arriving in Greece come from conflict zones like Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan and 83% of those passing through the Balkans are refugees from Syria.

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Related Links:

•   UN News Centre: ‘Shock must be matched by action,’ UNICEF chief says as Europe’s refugee and migrant crisis deepens
•   UNHCR: Official Website
•   UNHCR: UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres
•   UNICEF: Official Website

Photo Credits:

•   Cover: António Guterres. Photo: UNRIC/Michael Durickas
•   Second: UNHCR staffer helps refugees and migrants to register at the local police station on Kos Island in Greece. Photo: UNHCRS/Baltagiannis
•   Third: Near the town of Gevgelija, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, a young Syrian girl holds the hand of an adult waiting to board a train to the Serbian border. Photo: UNICEF/ Tomislav Georgiev

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