UN: Strategy needed to treat refugees with dignity

With 3,000 refugees crossing into Macedonia daily, UN calls for unified European response to regional crisis.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has called on European countries to come together to create a working strategy to deal with the massive influx of refugees making their way to Europe.

The agency said that all European countries and the EU must act together to provide support to countries such as Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia whose capacities were overstretched. It also called for the equitable redistribution of refugees across the EU.

“It’s vital that these people are treated humanely, also that essential assistance is provided, not just by responding to their basic needs but respecting also their dignity, their human rights as asylum seekers and migrants,” UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told a news conference in Geneva. 


The agency anticipated the number of refugees crossing into Macedonia from Greece was expected to continue at a rate of around 3,000 a day.

Fleming appealed to governments in the EU to make sure that they handled the situation with sensitivity and abided by their international obligations.

“While understanding legitimate concerns facing countries in the region – obviously this is an unexpected large number of people – we do appeal to the governments involved to implement border management measures with humanity and also in accordance with international obligations.”

Fleming said that Macedonia’s refugee situation has “calmed significantly from the chaotic scenes” seen last week when the country called a state of emergency and closed its border, although it remained a concern.

Her comments came after a record number of refugees streamed into EU member Hungary from Serbia, just days before Hungary completes a border fence.

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A total of 2,093 refugees, the highest daily total to date, crossed the border near the Hungarian town of Roszke, a police statement said on Monday. 

They were part of a wave of around 8,000 refugees whose journey to the European Union had been blocked last week when Macedonia closed its borders after being overwhelmed by the huge influx of people, amid Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.

The UNHCR’s calls for reforms came a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande called for a unified system for the right to asylum, and the setting up of reception centres in Greece and Italy.

The issue is set to top the agenda at a summit of Balkan leaders on Thursday, which Merkel will attend.

Germany, a country that has taken a leading role in welcoming refugees in the EU, is now advising officials who process their arrivals not to send people from Syria back to other European countries.

Refugees rest in a park beside the main railway and bus station after arriving in Belgrade, Serbia [EPA]Refugees rest in a park beside the main railway and bus station after arriving in Belgrade, Serbia [EPA]

Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull travelled with refugees starting their European journeys on a ferry from the Greek island of Lesbos and as they moved north to the country’s north towards Macedonia.

“This is the fifth ferry load of refugees to arrive in Piraeus since last Monday, that’s 12,500 in a single week with many more making the journey by other means,” our correspondent said.

“On the Aegean islands, there are more than 10,000 waiting for transport like this, and that number is growing by 1,000 new arrivals across the water from Turkey every single day.

“The authorities in Greece are utterly overwhelmed, offering little besides a simple registration document that allows the refugees to pass through the country and leave.”

Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from Presevo on Serbia’s southern border, said more than 10,000 people had passed through to Serbia into Macedonia in less than five days.

“It’s chaotic registration centres such as this one that are really worrying European Union leaders. There’s very little in the way of security checks, only 72-hour visas are being issued and, look at the numbers,” he said.

Simmons said many in northern Serbia on the trail to attempt to cross into Hungary had already heard the country was trying to block its borders and were frightened about what lay ahead.

“Hungary is going to become an even bigger pressure point in this crisis and its government is already criticising the EU for not giving it enough money to cope with the record number of people.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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