The ongoing conflict and violence in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the world is causing large-scale displacement and refugees are seeking safety beyond the immediate region. The lack of an increased number of legal pathways leaves so many people fleeing persecution with few choices, including many trying to reunite with family members in Europe. In 2015, and the first months of 2016, almost 1.2 million refugees and migrants reached European shores, most fleeing conflict and persecution. Many lost their lives or saw loves ones perished at sea in their attempt to reach safety. An increasing number of families, women, and unaccompanied children undertook perilous journeys across several countries and often faced exploitation on the hands of smugglers.
“The simple truth is that refugees would not risk their
lives on a journey so dangerous if they could thrive
where they are.”
Melissa Fleming, UNHCR
What is UNHCR doing to help?
To respond to this emergency, UNHCR mobilised over 600 staff and resources in 20 different locations to provide life-saving assistance and protection. This include provision of humanitarian assistance, efforts to improve accommodation and shelter during the winter months, establishing 24/7 presence at all countries’ entry points and in a number of exit points to ensure continuous protection monitoring and intervention, efforts to reunite separated families, and identification of persons with specific needs, including separated and unaccompanied children, and referral to appropriate services. UNHCR has also called upon European States and others to act collectively with responsibility and solidarity, in line with their international obligations.
Following the closure of borders in countries in the Western Balkans in early March, UNHCR began immediately shifting resources to increase reception capacity and services to the asylum-seekers and refugees now in Greece in support of the efforts of the Greek authorities.