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UNHCR urges Europe to change course on refugee crisis

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UNHCR urges Europe to change course on refugee crisis

16 September 2015

UNHCR reiterates its deep conviction that only a united European emergency response can address the present refugee and migration crisis. Individual measures by individual countries will not solve the problem but will make an already chaotic situation worse, further the suffering of people and increase tension amongst states at a time when Europe needs more solidarity and trust.

UNHCR is particularly concerned about a series of restrictive measures recently introduced by Hungary and the way they are being implemented, resulting in extremely limited access for refugees at the border. New legislation includes deterrence measures, some contrary to international law and European jurisprudence when applied to asylum-seekers and refugees.

"UNHCR reiterates its call on the the Hungarian authorities to ensure unimpeded access for people in need of protection in line with its legal and moral obligations,"the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said today. "States should manage their borders in a way that is consistent with International and EU Law, including guaranteeing the right to seek asylum," Guterres added.

Reports indicate that only a few asylum-seekers have been allowed to enter Hungary through the official border crossing point. UNHCR was especially shocked and saddened to witness Syrian refugees, including families with children who have already suffered so much, being prevented from entering the EU with water cannons and tear gas.

Hungary has also begun to return asylum-seekers to Serbia, against standing UNHCR advice to governments. The argument that refugees can be denied entry because it is possible to be returned to Serbia does not take into account the asylum system Serbia is currently building is not able to cope with the magnitude of the current inflow of people who require effective protection.

In relation to refugees being detained for irregularly crossing the border barrier and will be charged, UNHCR reminds States of their obligations under the UN Refugee Convention and, in particular, article 31 (non- penalization for unauthorized entry or presence for asylum seekers and refugees).

"It is not a crime to cross a border to seek asylum," Mr. Guterres said.

To address the crisis, and given the outcome of the meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Ministers and the new situation at the Hungarian border, UNHCR proposed an emergency plan of action yesterday in Brussels for:

  • 1. The immediate creation of facilities in Greece to receive, assist, register and screen people arriving.
  • 2. The immediate start of a process, from Greece and from existing centers in Italy, for the relocation of 40,000 refugees agreed to by the Council to participating EU countries. This should be expanded by additional voluntary pledges by EU states against the new proposals of the European Commission.
  • 3. An emergency package from the EU to Serbia to establish a similar capacity to properly assist, register and relocate people to other European countries.

In parallel, UNHCR insists on the need to substantially increase the opportunities for Syrian refugees hosted in neighboring countries to Syria to access legal channels to the EU including enhanced resettlement and humanitarian admission, family reunification and humanitarian and student visas.

Meanwhile, a growing number of refugees are now moving to Croatia. UNHCR has offered immediate support to the Croatian authorities and is mobilizing additional teams, relief items and equipment to Greece and Serbia as more than 4000 refugees and migrants continue to arrive on a daily basis to Greece.