While welcoming the steps taken by European leaders at their meeting in Brussels to tackle the current refugee crisis, the United Nations refugee agency said on September 15 that a robust and coherent response is still urgently needed, the UN News Centre said.
The September 14 of EU interior ministers saw the formal adoption of an earlier relocation proposal involving 40 000 people.
“This is a single welcome step towards addressing the current refugee situation in Europe, but it is clear that much more is still needed,” Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news conference in Geneva.
“UNHCR is deeply disappointed that although a majority of member States were in agreement with a wider relocation proposal involving 120 000 people, a final consensus on this could not be reached,” she added. “Decisive agreement is needed without further delay to address the needs, as is bold action based on solidarity from all member states”.
Speaking at a news conference in Brussels, High Commissioner António Guterres warned that the EU must move quickly to help solve the crisis.
“This is a moment of truth for the EU,” he said. “Either it acts, or it will become irrelevant in international affairs.”
Guterres said that the massive influx of Syrian refugees is the result of a loss of hope, as well as severe cuts in life-saving assistance in the neighbouring countries’ refugee camps due to of lack of funding. For example, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has been forced to cut down on food assistance by 40 per cent.
“In an ideal world, there would be a common European asylum policy and refugees could move freely within the EU. But that is not the case,” he said, calling for legal alternatives to reach safety so that people will not have to resort to smugglers and undertake dangerous, irregular journeys.
While welcoming a proposed relocation scheme for 160 000 refugees from Greece, Itlay and Hungary, Guterres emphasised that estimates have indicated an even higher number that will require assistance.
“A plan B is necessary,” he said. “We can’t wait until October for another meeting of the European Council who then reverts back to the European Parliament, then back to the European Council … the Union has 500 million people – it’s a manageable situation, and it needs to be managed.”
(UNHCR staffer helps refugees and migrants to register at the local police station on Kos Island in Greece. Photo: UNHCR/S. Baltagiannis)