Countries with far less means have been responding to much larger people movements says UNHCR chief
By Chinedu Onyejelem
Europe must go beyond a humanitarian response if it is to manage the ongoing migration emergency, the UNHCR’s chief has warned.
Filippo Grandi told MEPs in Strasbourg that over 138,000 migrants and refugees – two-thirds of them women and children – have arrived in Europe in the first nine weeks of 2016 alone.
They account for just some of the 1,200,000 migrants who have arrived in Europe since January 2015, mainly by sea via the Mediterranean in small inflatable boats.
Thousands of these refugees are currently stranded in Greece following the decision by Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and non-EU members Serbia and Macedonia to close their borders to the mass migration from troubled regions in the Middle East and north Africa.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has criticised them for acting “unilaterally” in closing the so-called ‘Balkan route’ for migrants, adding that it has put Greece in a “very difficult situation”.
Grandi, meanwhile, maintains that Europe has all it takes to deal with the large migration.
“On other continents, countries with far less means than Europe have been responding to much larger movements of people forced to leave their homes, and continue to do so,” said the UN’s high commissioner for refugees. “In this very chamber, exhortations to states around the world to treat refugees according to principles and in an organised manner have resonated many times.”
Grandi said it was time for Europe to deal with the situation in a dignified manner. “This emergency does not have to be crisis, it can be managed,” he added.
Reacting to discussions between EU heads of state and the Turkish government over the repatriation of refugees, Grandi said he was “deeply concerned about any arrangement that would involve the blanket return of anyone from one country to another without spelling out the refugee protection safeguards under international law.”
He called on the EU Council to clarify details of the safeguards it plans to introduce in its agreement with Turkey during the council’s meeting on 17 March.