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UNHCR outlines proposals to manage refugee and migration crisis in Europe ahead of EU Summit

People relaxing at the Croatian government transit center in Opatovac, near the Serbian border.

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

GENEVA, Sept 22 (UNHCR) — With EU leaders meeting in Brussels today and tomorrow, UNHCR has urged them to unite behind emergency proposals to manage what it says is an “increasingly chaotic and unpredictable” refugee and migration crisis.

The UN refugee agency 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 tomorrow’s 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 program to be credible.

UNHCR notes that the relocation program 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:

— strong European support for the immediate creation of facilities in Greece—and the expansion of existing ones in Italywith a robust capacity to receive, assist, register and screen people who arrive by sea. Without sufficient reception capacity, the relocation program cannot work effectively as onward movements will continue. Similar facilities may also be required either in Serbia or in other EU member State people transit through;

— the immediate start of the relocation process for 40,000 from Greece and Italy. This should be expanded by additional voluntary pledges from EU States against the new proposals of the European Commission for another 120,000 places. UNHCR believes that these figures are likely to require an upward revision in the future;

— strengthening the mechanisms for the humane return of people not in need of international protection, with the support of Frontex and IOM;

— in parallel, measures are urgently needed to stabilize the situation in Europe’s neighbourhood, including by providing additional humanitarian funding and structural support to countries hosting large refugee populations. UNHCR has also urged a substantial and rapid increase in legal opportunities for refugees to access the EU, including enhanced resettlement and humanitarian admission, family reunification and humanitarian and student visas.

The emergency situation currently facing Europe, which has seen 477,906 new sea arrivals this year, is primarily a refugee crisis (http://data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/regional.php).

The vast majority of those arriving in Greece and moving onwards come from conflict zones such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq (http://data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/country.php?id=83). 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. We have offered our expertise and assistance for the establishment and running of reception and registration facilities and for the relocation program.