United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned Balkan states that border restrictions based on a refugee’s or migrant’s nationality infringed human rights, with the United Nations refugee agency saying that 1000 people are already stranded, 60 of them on hunger strike and 11 reportedly stitching up their mouths in protest.
“Profiling asylum seekers on the basis of their alleged nationality infringes the human right of all people to seek asylum, irrespective of their nationality and to have their individual cases heard,” Ban said on November 24 on the latest reaction to the huge influx of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing fighting in their homelands.
Under restrictions imposed last week at borders between Greece and the 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.
“The Secretary-General calls on all states in the region to respond effectively to the mounting humanitarian challenges and to ensure that their policies on screening asylum seekers are in line with international refugee and human rights law,” a statement by Ban’s spokesperson said, as reported by the UN News Centre.
“He urges European governments to significantly improve their capacities for reception and to speed up implementation of the relocation programmes for refugees. He recalls that collective expulsion and refoulement are strictly prohibited under international law,” the statement said.
The statement called on all states in the region to respond with compassion, solidarity and shared responsibility, noting that the current situation highlights the urgent need for co-ordinated border management.
Also on November 24, just days after warning that the restrictions are endangering refugees and migrants, especially children, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), voiced renewed alarm as the harshness of winter looms that human traffickers are waiting to take advantage of the chaos.
“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 minimise the risks of new problems being created,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told a news conference in Geneva.
“All people have the right the right to seek asylum, irrespective of their nationality and to have their individual cases heard,” he said, calling for proper information, counselling and accommodation to be provided.
Edwards said that the restrictions will play into the hands of human traffickers as people seek alternatives to the current chaos. “As we head into winter, stabilisation and proper and comprehensive management of Europe’s refugee and migrant situation remains urgently needed,” he said.
(Syrian refugee Mohamed, his wife Fatima and their two babies wait in Serbia to cross into Croatia. Photo: UNHCR/Mark Henley)