Tuesday, November 24, 2015

UN voices renewed alarm at European border restrictions as stranded refugees and migrants protest

UN, 24 November 2015 – Just days after warning that European border restrictions based on national profiling are endangering refugees and migrants, especially children, the United Nations refugee agency said today that 1,000 people are already stuck at crossing points, with 60 of them on hunger strike and 11 reported to have stitched up their mouths in protest.
“With refugees and migrants expected to continue arriving in Europe via Greece over the winter and into 2016 it is imperative that the situation be managed in such a way as to minimize the risks of new problems being created,” a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Adrian Edwards, told a news briefing in Geneva, stressing that all people have the right to seek asylum regardless of nationality.

This year has seen an enormous influx of hundreds of thousands of people passing through Turkey to Greece as they flee fighting in their homelands. But under restrictions imposed last week at borders between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and between the latter and Serbia, only Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis are being let through while others, including Iranians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis, are being blocked.

“All people have the right the right to seek asylum, irrespective of their nationality and to have their individual cases heard,” Mr. Edwards said. “Proper information needs to be provided to people affected by decisions at border points, and proper counselling needs to be available. In addition, arrangements to accommodate people affected must be in place.”

UNHCR is concerned that the new restrictions will play into the hands of human traffickers as people seek alternatives to the current chaos. “As we head into winter, stabilization and proper and comprehensive management of Europe’s refugee and migrant situation remains urgently needed,” Mr. Edwards warned.

Last Friday, UNHCR joined the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in issuing a joint statement warning of the dangers to blocked refugees and migrants as the bite of winter takes hold, and called on Governments to provide more reception centres and decent accommodation.

“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,” Mr. Edwards said then.

About 150 people have returned voluntarily over the past 48 hours to the Greek capital of Athens where they are being advised that they can seek asylum, the spokesperson said today. Near Greece’s Edomani border point, UNHCR and partners have set up a transit centre consisting of seven large heated tents where stranded people can stay the night and receive a hot meal.


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