UNHCR calls for new plan to tackle European refugee crisis

UNHCR calls for new strategy capable of dealing with huge influx of refugees into Europe without violating their human rights

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Refugees sleep in a park near the main bus and train station in Belgrade, Serbia, August 26, 2015

Updated Aug 27, 2015

The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Wednesday called on European states to work together to come up with a working strategy that could manage and equally distribute the massive daily influx of refugees escaping the violence in their home countries across the nations of the EU without violating their human rights as refugees and asylum seekers.

The agency said that all European countries along with the EU must help in providing support to Greece, Macedonia and Serbia whose capacities have been overstretched by the sheer number of refugees making their way through to Europe.

"It's vital that these people are treated humanely, also that essential assistance is provided, not just by responding to their basic needs but also respecting their dignity, their human rights as asylum seekers and migrants," UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said in a statement at a news conference in Geneva.

The agency estimated the number of refugees crossing into Macedonia from Greece is around 3,000 per day.

"While understanding legitimate concerns facing countries in the region - obviously this is an unexpected large number of people - we do appeal to the governments involved to implement border management measures with humanity and also in accordance with international obligations," Fleming urged.

He stated that the situation in Macedonia has "calmed significantly from the chaotic scenes" when the country urged a state of emergency and shut its borders, although concerns remain.

Fleming’s comments came immediately after a total of 2,093 refugees, the highest daily total to date, crossed Serbia's borders into Hungary, near the town of Roszke, just days before Hungary completed building a border fence, a police statement said on Monday.

These refugees were part of around 8,000 people, including women and children, whose journey to the EU for a better life was blocked last week when Macedonian authorities shut the country's borders after it was overwhelmed by the massive number of people wanting to cross, leaving them stranded for hours on the other side with no shelter.

Thousands of migrants blocked by Macedonian special police forces as they try to cross Greece's border into Macedonia, near the village of Idomeni, Greece, August 22, 2015.


Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons, reporting from the town of Presevo on Serbia's southern border, stated that more than 10,000 people passed through Macedonia into Serbia in less than five days.

"It's chaotic registration centres such as this one that are really worrying European Union leaders. There's very little in the way of security checks, only 72-hour visas are being issued and, look at the numbers," Simmons said.

Simmons stated that many refugees who have reached northern Serbia are en route to cross into Hungary, but had recently become anxious of what lay ahead after hearing about the country’s attempt to block its borders.

"Hungary is going to become an even bigger pressure point in this crisis and its government is already criticising the EU for not giving it enough money to cope with the record number of people."

Austria already has plans to deploy more than 500 troops to help it deal with the large number of refugees arriving from Hungary and Italy, Austrian Defence Minister Gerald Klug stated on Tuesday.

"We will make available as many as are needed," Klug announced before a cabinet meeting discussing the measures needed to tackle the crisis.

The soldiers will aid in transporting people and equipment and in providing food and shelter.

The troops will not immediately be deployed on Austria's borders, with Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner calling that step a "last resort."

The Austrian government also nominated a much-required new "migration coordinator," former banker Christian Konrad.

Austria, one of the wealthier EU countries, has struggled to keep up with the huge number of refugees and asylum requests.

The country’s main refugee processing centre - which is located in Traiskirchen, south of Vienna - is massively overcrowded with hundreds forced to sleep out in the open with no shelter available.

The number of requests for asylum in Austria rose to more than 28,300 between January and June alone, with officials expecting the total number to reach 80,000 this year.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have also called for a unified system that mainly deals with the right for asylum and the setting up of reception centres in both Greece and Italy. The shores of both countries are the usually first destinations in EU territory for refugees crossing the Mediterranean.

Germany, a country that has taken a leading role in hosting refugees in the EU, is now advising officials processing their arrivals not to send people from Syria back to other European countries.

Al Jazeera's Jonah Hull travelled with the refugees, starting with their journey on a ferry from the Greek island of Lesbos and moving north in the country towards neigbouring Macedonia.

"This is the fifth ferry load of refugees to arrive in Piraeus since last Monday, that's 12,500 in a single week with many more making the journey by other means," Hull reported.

"On the Aegean islands, there are more than 10,000 waiting for transport like this, and that number is growing by 1,000 new arrivals across the water from Turkey every single day,” he said.

"The authorities in Greece are utterly overwhelmed, offering little besides a simple registration document that allows the refugees to pass through the country and leave."

Frontex, which is the agency of the EU that manages the cooperation among national border guards including those from undocumented immigration, human trafficking and terrorist infiltration, reported last week that 107,000 asylum seekers were at the bloc's borders last month, with 20,800 arriving in Greece last week alone.

The main route of refugees in Europe is through the Balkans and Italy. Statistics from the UN show that up to 60 million people fled to other countries due to war, violence and persecution in 2014.

The central Mediterranean route has become the deadliest sea route for refugees seeking better life conditions, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) reported.

During the last eight and a half months 2,300 people lost their lives at sea. 102,000 people arrived in Italy, up to 135,000 people in Greece and almost 2,200 in Spain.



TRTWorld and agencies