UNHCR says EU must go beyond relocating 120,000 refugees

Syria is never far away. Parc Maximilien refugee camp, Brussels. [Joel Schalit/Flickr]

A European Union proposal to find spaces for 120,000 refugees will not work unless reception facilities are provided for tens of thousands at any time, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday (22 September).

“A relocation programme alone, at this stage in the crisis, will not be enough to stabilise the situation,” UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said.

UNHCR was no longer expecting a mandatory quota of relocation spaces allocated between EU countries, which it had hoped for, but urged EU leaders to back the 120,000 places as an emergency response, on top of 40,000 places for refugees who have arrived in Greece and Italy.

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The new figure of 120,000 represents only 20 days of the daily average of 6,000 arrivals. Fleming said the UNHCR, which had called for an initial 200,000 places, expected the EU proposal would need to be expanded in the future.

Fleming said UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres had been on the phone to “every kind of leader who has some kind of role” including EU foreign ministers and prime ministers.

The UNHCR has said a meeting of justice and home affairs ministers on Tuesday and a European Council meeting on Wednesday (23 September) would be “crucially important” and possibly the EU’s last chance to manage the crisis.

The Czech Republic is sticking to its position of rejecting any mandatory quota system for redistributing asylum-seekers among European Union member states, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said on Tuesday ahead of the meetings.

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“We will strictly reject any attempt to introduce some permanent mechanism of redistributing refugees,” Sobotka told reporters. “We as well reject using a quota system in any temporary mechanism.”

There had been a total of 477,906 “new sea arrivals” in Europe this year, Fleming said.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged European leaders yesterday (21 September) to ensure refugees and migrants are treated properly as many of them have endured arduous journeys to flee persecution, conflict and human rights abuses.

"The Secretary-General has followed with increasing concern the closing of some borders in Europe, as well as the lack of proper reception facilities as well as the increased use of detention and criminalization of irregular migrants and asylum seekers," Ban's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said.

Ban appealed to all European leaders to show leadership and compassion, Dujarric said. Ban will hold a meeting on 30 September on the challenges of the increased movements of refugees and migrants while world leaders are gathered at the United Nations. 

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said yesterday (21 September) his country did not receive enough assistance from the European Union to tackle the refugee influx.

"Greece is a first reception country, and Europe has unfortunately not taken steps to protect reception countries from a (migration) wave which has taken on uncontrolled dimensions," he said as he assumed his duties from Vassiliki Thanou, the country's caretaker prime minister for the past month.

"There is a need ...that Europe deal with a global, a European problem and share the responsibility among all member states," Tsipras said.

  • 23 September: EU leaders to meet in Brussels for extraordinary summit on the refugee crisis

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