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Joint UNHCR, IOM, and UNICEF statement on new border restrictions in the Balkans

Briefing notes

Joint UNHCR, IOM, and UNICEF statement on new border restrictions in the Balkans

20 November 2015 Also available in:

In the last couple of days, we have witnessed Governments instituting a range of restrictions against movements of refugees and migrants from Greece through the Western Balkans and further northwards. This includes people being profiled on the basis of nationality. This is becoming increasingly untenable from every point of view - humanitarian, legal, and also safety related, not least in light of falling temperatures and the risks for children and others with specific needs.

These measures by States are creating tension at border crossings and a domino effect, leaving in total limbo some refugees and migrants stranded at different border points. UNHCR and IOM have been working with governments to increase reception capacity in the affected countries, and install protection against winter conditions. UNICEF is supporting child friendly spaces in reception centres at border crossings along the Balkan routes, mobilizing for winter and working with governments to strengthen child protection systems for all children including refugee and migrant children.

But we remain concerned by a shortage of places to accommodate people along the route should the movement be slowed down and crowding result. We are monitoring and providing assistance with partners at these points, including providing blankets, winter clothing and other key items covering basic needs.

There is urgent need to put in place additional reception capacity at the points of entry, to allow for decent and effective accommodation, compliance with child protection standards, assistance, registration and screening of the thousands of people arriving every day - to identify those who are in need of protection, those to be relocated to other European countries, and people who do not qualify for refugee protection and for whom effective and dignified return mechanisms have to be put in place. In all situations, decisions related to children should be taken guided by what is in their best interests. As long as this robust reception and screening capacity does not exist, the only ones who are in control of the situation are the smuggling networks whose unscrupulous activities have already cost the lives of nearly 3,500 people in the Mediterranean Sea this year. The current situation, if not addressed quickly and comprehensively, will lead to a fragmentation of the routes and additional challenges. Much more has to be done to crack down on smugglers and traffickers - but in ways that allow their victims to be protected.

As urgent, is the need to give people uprooted by violent conflicts safe, legal avenues, such as resettlement, humanitarian admission and family reunion, as alternatives to the chaotic and dangerous smuggling routes they are forced to take today to reach safety. UNHCR, IOM and UNICEF therefore call on the concerned States to re-establish coordination and response mechanisms agreed at the Western Balkans Summit on 8 October and the Leaders' Meeting on 25 October 2015.