Newsbrief, TerraViva United Nations

Rights Group Urges EU Action on Refugee Crisis

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 17 2015 (IPS) - “Drowning at sea or freezing in a Balkan field can never be acceptable forms of border control,” said Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) Associate Europe and Central Asia Director Judith Sunderland, while urging Europe to take appropriate and urgent action on the refugee crisis.

In a new report, HRW has pointed to the European Union’s (EU) failed response to the crisis. It states that many EU governments have shifted back to the default position, preventing and discouraging people from reaching EU territory and rapidly deporting those who do have a right to remain there.

In mid-September, Hungary closed its border with Serbia, one of the main refugee routes. This led to clashes as Hungarian authorities responded violently to asylum seekers crossing from Serbia, firing tear gas and water cannons to deter them.

The country has also since closed its border with Croatia, conducting mass arrests and deportations of anyone found crossing its fences.

In a statement, Amnesty International’s (AI) Deputy Director for Europe Gauri van Gulik slammed Hungary’s actions, stating: “For refugees fleeing from terrifying conflict zones to be met by such an intimidating show of militarized force is shocking, and a woefully irresponsible response to people already traumatized by war and brutality.”

Greece has also closed off its land border with Turkey to prevent entry, forcing refugees to take the more dangerous sea routes to the Greek Islands.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), as of 10 Nov 2015, over 3,455 people died at sea trying to reach the EU surpassing the 3,149 individuals who died in all of 2014.

HRW’s report, titled “Europe’s Refugee Crisis: An Agenda for Action,” also noted delays and disorganization in the asylum process due to an increase in applicants. This has forced asylum seekers to remain in deplorable camp conditions across the continent.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham, in conjunction with UK organization Doctors of the World, reported extremely poor conditions in a Calais refugee camp, where residents lack adequate food, water, and shelter. For instance, the study found that migrants were fed once a day but some residents described 3-hour long queues, hindering their ability to collect food.

HRW has pushed for EU governments to ensure its response to the crisis matches its legal responsibilities and stated values of human rights.

“In a world of increasing displacement, conflict, and human rights abuse, EU leadership is more important than ever,” Sunderland stated.

U.S. President Barrack Obama echoed similar sentiments following the G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey, highlighting the need to address the refugee crisis in the aftermath of the Paris attacks on 13 Nov.

“We also have to remember that many of these refugees are victims of terrorism themselves…slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” stated President Obama during a press conference.

“Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both,” he continued.

HRW urged for EU action on four key areas: reducing the need for dangerous journeys; addressing the crisis at Europe’s borders; fixing the EU’s broken asylum system and; ensuring EU cooperation with other countries that improves refugee protection and respect for human rights.

According to UNHCR, as of November 2015, over 800,000 refugees reached Europe by sea this year. Approximately 84 percent of this population are from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and Somalia.

The EU has instituted an emergency relocation proposal to transfer 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece, Hungary and Italy to other countries in the region. However, HRW described the plan as “modest” and “slow” in lieu of the significant number of refugees that continue to arrive to the continent.

So far, 147 asylum seekers have been relocated.


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