UNHCR hits out at EU states over refugee caps

24 Feb 16

The United Nations refugee agency has criticised some European countries for shifting problems onward with their restrictive practices for refugees, resulting in undue hardship, chaos, and potential violations of European Union law.


The UN High Commissioner for Refugees highlighted measures adopted by Austria and Slovenia to place a cap on the number of people who can enter the territory and claim asylum every day, undermining efforts towards a comprehensive and coordinated approach to the crisis.

It also criticised moves by the heads of police services in Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia to jointly profile and register refugees and asylum seekers at the border between Macedonia and Greece along with other additional measures introduced.

“UNHCR is concerned by the recent restrictive practices adopted in a number of European countries that are placing additional undue hardships on refugees and asylum seekers across Europe, creating chaos at several border points, and putting particular pressure on Greece as it struggles to deal with larger numbers of people in need of accommodation and services,” a statement said.

The agency warned the countries’ restrictive measures are making refugees more vulnerable, especially unaccompanied and separated children.

They are more likely to lack proper registration in line with EU and international standards, be selected on basis of nationality rather than protection needs and to end up out in the open, exposed to freezing cold weather and a risk of violence and exploitation at the hands of smugglers, it said.

UNHCR said that a “domino effect” was already in place, with the measures resulting in a massive build up of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Greece and Macedonia, where nearly 700 people, mostly from Afghanistan, have been barred from accessing Serbia.

It added that these practices potentially violate EU law and undermine the conclusions reached by the European Council last week emphasising that to enter the EU without adequate travel documentation individuals need to apply for asylum when reaching an EU country.

“With every passing week, it appears some European countries are focusing on keeping refugees and migrants out more than on responsibly managing the flow and working on common solutions,” it said.

“Some states are shifting problems onward rather than trying to genuinely share responsibility and show solidarity with one another and those in need of protection.

“A comprehensive, coordinated strategy built on shared responsibility, solidarity and trust among all EU states working together is the only approach to the current emergency.”

UNHCR called on states to inform refugees of their procedures in order to “allay fears and potential chaos”, as well as for the creation and expansion of credible alternative pathways for refugees to reach safety. 

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