The head of the UN refugee agency has said that he believed the influx of refugees entering Europe’s borders was manageable, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who has earned praise for her government’s pro-refugee policy – said the EU needed “binding quotas”.
UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday that the number of displaced people would only increase if the world isn’t able to better prevent and solve conflicts.
He called for an increase in the number of legal ways for refugees to come to Europe, citing an increase in number of visas, relocation and reunification of people with their families.
“I think it is clear that this is a serious crisis, but for me it is also clear that if Europe would be properly organised it would be a manageable crisis.
We can't just say Syria is too far away, we don't care about it, when the entire world is looking at us.
“We are talking about four or five thousand people per day in a [European] Union that has 508 million people.
“We have had until now 300,000 who have crossed the Mediterranean, which is less than one per thousand of the European population.
“In Lebanon, we have one-third of its population refugee, so I think we need recognising that this became a very serious crisis in Europe, it is a very serious crisis also largely because Europe is not organised to deal with it because the European asylum system has been extremely dysfunctional and, in the recent weeks, completely chaotic,” Guterres said.
Merkel urged greater flexibility in EU migrant quotas as her deputy, Sigmar Gabriel, said Berlin “could surely deal with something in the order of half-a-million [refugees] for several years”.
Germany, which has previously said it would take in 800,000 asylum seekers this year, would continue accepting “a greatly disproportionate share” among EU members “because we are an economically strong country”, Gabriel told AFP news agency.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the large majority of people arriving in Europe are refugees fleeing war and violence, who have a right to seek asylum without any form of discrimination.
“The conflict is a colossal tragedy for Syria and a shameful symbol of international divisions. History’s judgement will be harsh,” Ban said.
Earlier in the day, the UN called on European states to guarantee relocation for 200,000 refugees.
UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told Al Jazeera that Europe is a “wealthy” continent that could manage the numbers of people coming in.
A record 7,000 Syrian refugees arrived in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on Monday, while some 30,000 are on Greek islands, including 20,000 on Lesbos, according to the UN.
Since June, UNICEF said, more than 64,000 migrants have passed through the Macedonian border and 89,161 have been recorded at the Serbian border.
Amid criticism of Europe’s response to the refugee crisis, a number of countries have come forward to help ahead of the European Commission meeting where its President Jean-Claude Juncker will lay out plans for handling the refugee crisis on Wednesday.
Earlier on Tuesday, EU President Donald Tusk warned that the refugee crisis affecting Europe was part of an “exodus” from war-torn countries that could last years.
France has announced a $11.16m emergency fund for refugees, while Spain and Poland have offered to host refugees as part of the proposed EU quota.
US President Barack Obama’s administration on Tuesday said it was looking at further measures to address the Syrian refugee crisis, amid criticism the world’s largest economy is not doing enough.
The measures could include more funding to help house and feed refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey and other countries, and admitting more refugees into the US.
Germany and Sweden have called for quotas to distribute refugees across all 28 European Union countries.
Speaking alongside Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in Berlin, Merkel said that all countries in Europe have to take responsibility for the values Europe was founded on in dealing with the current refugee crisis.
“We can’t just say Syria is too far away we don’t care about it, when the entire world is looking at us” she said.
The crisis will not be solved “tomorrow, or next week, but as soon as possible”, Merkel said.
Lofven said that “if people knock on the door who are fleeing from war, terror, rape, then we have to open the door”.
As the two leaders met in Berlin, hundreds of migrants tried to get on trains bound for Western Europe at the Keleti station in Budapest, Hungarian media reported.