Tuesday 27 September 2016

UN refugee agency says 850,000 people will cross Mediterranean sea to Europe in 2015 and 2016

* 400,000 projected to cross in 2015, 450,000 next year
* Record 7,000 refugees arrived in Macedonia on Monday
* 30,000 on Greek islands including 20,000 on Lesbos
* 'Cannot be a German solution to a European problem'
* UN envoy Sutherland calls for 'fair allocation' in EU

Stephanie Nebehay

Published 08/09/2015 | 23:02

Refugees on the move
Refugees on the move

At least 850,000 people are expected to cross the Mediterranean seeking refuge in Europe this year and next, the United Nations said on Tuesday, giving estimates that already look conservative.

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The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR called for more cohesive asylum policies to deal with the growing numbers.

A refugee waits to board a bus in Hungary with her infant
A refugee waits to board a bus in Hungary with her infant

Many are refugees from Syria, driven to make the voyage by intensified fighting there and worsening conditions for refugees in surrounding countries due to funding shortfalls in aid programmes, UNHCR said.

"In 2015, UNHCR anticipates that approximately 400,000 new arrivals will seek international protection in Europe via the Mediterranean. In 2016 this number could reach 450,000 or more," it said in an appeal document.

Read more here: Refugee crisis: Elation and relief at Vienna's main railway station  

Spokesman William Spindler said the prediction for this year was close to being fulfilled, with 366,000 having already made the voyage. The total will depend on whether migrants stop attempting the journey as the weather gets colder and the seas more perilous.

Volunteers help a Syrian refugee (C) that collapsed moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 7, 2015. Greece is struggling to cope with the hundreds of migrants and refugees from the war in Syria making the short crossing every day from Turkey to Greece's eastern islands, including Kos, Lesbos, Samos and Agathonisi. REUTERS/Dimitris Michalakis
Volunteers help a Syrian refugee (C) that collapsed moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 7, 2015. Greece is struggling to cope with the hundreds of migrants and refugees from the war in Syria making the short crossing every day from Turkey to Greece's eastern islands, including Kos, Lesbos, Samos and Agathonisi. REUTERS/Dimitris Michalakis
A Syrian refugee girl cries as she is aided to disembark from a dinghy, moments after arriving on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 7, 2015. Greece is struggling to cope with the hundreds of migrants and refugees from the war in Syria making the short crossing every day from Turkey to Greece's eastern islands, including Kos, Lesbos, Samos and Agathonisi. REUTERS/Dimitris Michalakis

So far, the numbers do not appear to have slowed down as the colder months approach, with many appearing spurred on by Germany's announcement that it will ease the rules for Syrians seeking refuge who first reach the European Union through other countries.

A single-day record 7,000 Syrian refugees arrived in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia on Monday, while 30,000 are on Greek islands, most of them on Lesbos, it said.

Read more here: Refugees continue to enter Hungary amid tensions on Serbian border  

Many arrive first in Greece, then leave the EU to travel up through the Balkans to Hungary and onward to Germany.

A Syrian refugee holding her child is comforted moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 7, 2015. Greece is struggling to cope with the hundreds of migrants and refugees from the war in Syria making the short crossing every day from Turkey to Greece's eastern islands, including Kos, Lesbos, Samos and Agathonisi. REUTERS/Dimitris Michalakis
A Syrian refugee holding her child is comforted moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 7, 2015. Greece is struggling to cope with the hundreds of migrants and refugees from the war in Syria making the short crossing every day from Turkey to Greece's eastern islands, including Kos, Lesbos, Samos and Agathonisi. REUTERS/Dimitris Michalakis
A Syrian refugee wearing a life jacket and armbands reacts moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 7, 2015. Reuters/Dimitris Michalakis

"So obviously the discussions this week in Europe are taking even on greater urgency because it obviously cannot be a German solution to a European problem," UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told a news briefing.

UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres called for an increase in the number of legal ways for refugees to come to Europe, such as an increase in number of visas and ways to reunite people with their families.

"I am convinced that with the proper instruments in place, this will be much easier to manage," he told a news conference in Paris.

Read more here: Hungary migrant fence needs to be built faster, says Prime Minister  

Syrian refugees react as they arrive after crossing aboard a dinghy from Turkey, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. The island of some 100,000 residents has been transformed by the sudden new population of some 20,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Syrian refugees react as they arrive after crossing aboard a dinghy from Turkey, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. The island of some 100,000 residents has been transformed by the sudden new population of some 20,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
A young Syrian boy, wrapped with a thermal blanket, arrives with others after crossing aboard a dinghy from Turkey, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. The island of some 100,000 residents has been transformed by the sudden new population of some 20,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Refugees and migrants take part in a protest to demand faster processing by local authorities of their registration and the issuing of travel documents, at the port of Mytilene, on the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. Greece's caretaker government, appointed ahead of elections on Sept. 20, says at least two-thirds of the estimated 15,000 to 18,000 refugees and economic migrants stranded in "miserable" conditions on the Aegean island will be ferried to the mainland in the next five days. (AP Photo/Santi Palacios)

Germany told its European partners on Monday they must take in more refugees as it handles record numbers of asylum seekers.

The European Union's executive Commission is expected to unveil a programme this week that would redistribute 160,000 asylum seekers who arrive in Italy, Hungary and Greece.

Peter Sutherland, special representative of the U.N. secretary-general for migration and development, called for a "harmonised system" and "fair allocation" in the European Union.

Read more here: Taoiseach dismisses claims of Cabinet split over refugee crisis  

He said Europe's "Dublin rules" requiring asylum seekers to apply in the first EU country they reach would have to be amended, or they could jeopardise the principles of border control-free travel in the bloc's Schengen zone.

Refugees push each other as they try to board a bus following their arrival onboard the Eleftherios Venizelos passenger ship at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Greece, yesterday. Photo: Reuters/Alkis Konstantinidis
Refugees push each other as they try to board a bus following their arrival onboard the Eleftherios Venizelos passenger ship at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Greece, yesterday. Photo: Reuters/Alkis Konstantinidis
A Syrian refugee carries two children after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 7, 2015. Reuters/Dimitris Michalakis
A migrant family from Syria is seen outside a refugee camp at the fair ground of Munich, Germany September 7, 2015. Reuters/Michaela Rehle
Migrants line-up at a registration point after crossing the Macedonian-Greek border near Gevgelija, Macedonia, September 7, 2015
A Syrian refugee wearing a life jacket and armbands reacts moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 7, 2015. Reuters/Dimitris Michalakis

"Coherence is going to require leadership and leadership before we see the destruction of great achievements like the Schengen agreement," he warned. "I think Dublin doesn't work."

GLOBAL RESPONSE

Other countries - including the United States, wealthy Gulf states and Japan - must face their responsibilities, he said.

The White House on Tuesday said the Obama administration is taking into account the urgency of the migrant crisis in Europe as it considers further steps that the United States can take.

Read more here: Before we get too smug, remember our record with refugees is shameful  

White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to discuss the options at a briefing with reporters but said: "Everyone is well aware of the sense of urgency."

Germany's decision last month to open its doors to Syrians who arrived elsewhere in the EU has brought the issue sharply into focus, as did images last week of a drowned Syrian toddler washed up on a Turkish beach, which appeared on newspaper front pages across the continent.

Germany alone expects 800,000 asylum applications this year, including those who have crossed the Mediterranean, others from Balkan states and some who arrived in previous years.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that Europe needed to implement a joint system for dealing with asylum seekers and agree to binding quotas on how to distribute refugees across the continent.

Read more here: Refugee flood just starting - Sutherland  

"This joint European asylum system cannot just exist on paper but must also exist in practice. I say that because it lays out minimum standards for accommodating refugees and the task of registering refugees," she told a joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in Berlin.

"Our responsibility is deeply moral. It is a human responsibility," he said. "We have to do this together. There are 28 countries in the EU with the same responsibility."

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said on Monday that if countries in eastern Europe and elsewhere continued to resist accepting their fair share of refugees, the Schengen system would be at risk.

Read more here: Misdeeds of the West are at the heart of current refugee crisis  

Austria meanwhile said it would improve accommodation for asylum seekers as winter approaches and increase capacity at refugee-processing centres in anticipation of tens of thousands of new arrivals.

Smaller central and eastern European Union states have rejected any mandatory quotas for taking in refugees as the European Commission prepares to present a plan to that end.

Poland however indicated it could accept more migrants than the 2,000 it announced earlier. Spain said it was ready to accept as many refugees as the Commission proposes, reversing course after saying it was being asked to take too many.

Read more here: Sun-kissed Greek beaches now play home to desperate Syrian refugees  

Britain, which is exempt from common EU asylum policies, announced this week it will take thousands of refugees directly from camps in the region, but not from among those who have reached other EU countries.

Britain has taken in fewer Syrians than other EU countries but has given Europe's biggest donations in aid to the region, arguing that this is more effective assistance for millions of displaced Syrians than accepting thousands as refugees.

Four million Syrians are registered as refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Another 8 million are displaced within Syria itself.

UNHCR's Fleming welcomed separate offers announced by Britain and France on Monday to take in Syrian refugees, but said reception centres must be set up in countries including Hungary, Greece and Italy to process asylum claims.

Read more here: 'Our hearts must rule our heads' as Europe faces crisis - diplomat  

"Those can only work if there is a guaranteed relocation system whereby European countries saying yes will take X number. We believe it should be 200,000 - that's the number we believe need relocation in Europe countries," Fleming said.

Noting that Europe has a population of half a billion, she added: "It is a manageable situation if the political will were there."

She also appealed for more aid for UN programmes for displaced Syrians within the Middle East, saying funding problems were creating conditions that encouraged refugees to leave the camps for Europe.

The UN World Food Programme's operation to feed Syrians costs $26 million a week, but it has cut rations to 1.3 million refugees due to a funding shortage, spokeswoman Bettina Luescher said. "Basically now the refugees are living on around 50 cents a day in those countries around Syria."

Read more here: Finally, we sit up and take notice of war crisis  

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