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

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

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 22 September 2015, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

As EU leaders meet in Brussels today and tomorrow, UNHCR is urging them to unite behind emergency proposals to manage the refugee and migration crisis that is becoming increasingly chaotic and unpredictable. This 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. "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. Tomorrow's EU Council meeting is absolutely crucial to overcome Europe's divisions and create needed political commitment and momentum."

It is essential that the 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.

A relocation program alone, at this stage in the crisis, will 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 Italy - with a robust capacity to receive, assist, register and screen people who arrive by sea . Without sufficient reception capacity, the relocation programme 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 neighborhood, including by providing additional humanitarian funding and structural support to countries hosting large refugee populations. UNHCR also urges 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 reiterates 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. After the many gestures by governments and citizens across Europe welcoming refugees, this now needs 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 programme.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In London, Andrej Mahecic on mobile +44 78 8023 0985
  • In Budapest, Babar Baloch on mobile +36 30 530 9633
  • In Vienna, Ruth Schoeffl on mobile +43 699 1459 5307
  • In Belgrade, Melita Sunjic on mobile +381 63 343 134
  • In Rome, Carlotta Sami, on mobile +39 335 679 47 46
  • In Paris, Celine Schmitt on mobile + 33 6 23 16 11 78
  • In Athens (Regional), Ron Redmond on mobile +30 694 244 5037
  • In Athens, Ketty Kehayioylou on mobile +30 694 02 77 485
  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120