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Refugee flood just starting - Sutherland


Police try to maintain order in Macedonia.

Police try to maintain order in Macedonia.

REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

A Syrian refugee helps children from a dinghy in Lesbos, Greece

A Syrian refugee helps children from a dinghy in Lesbos, Greece

REUTERS/Dimitris Michalakis


Police try to maintain order in Macedonia.

The flood of refugees into Europe from the Middle East and Africa has only just begun as states disintegrate in a maelstrom of religious war, the United Nations has warned.

"We cannot comfort ourselves that this is a temporary phenomenon," said Peter Sutherland, the UN's special envoy for migrants and refugees.

Quite apart from Syria, much of the Sahel across sub-Saharan Africa is hanging by a thread, and Isil is expanding into every country of the Maghreb.

"It is very easy to be sanctimonious about this subject, and a lot of people are, but politicians have the hard task of dealing with it," he said, speaking at the Ambrosetti forum of world policy-makers on Lake Como.

Mr Sutherland is thankful - in a sense - that the picture of a drowned three year-old boy on the beaches of Bodrum should have goaded Europe into action at last, but is equally exasperated that policy is being driven by emotional spasms.

"There were at least 3,000 deaths in the Mediterranean last year and you don't need a photo to know that some of those too were children," he said.

For some, the photo is still not enough. "Angela Merkel is showing courageous leadership but in other parts of Europe, the reaction has been terrible. The Poles and Slovaks have said they will only accept Christians.


"This is a repudiation of everything the EU stands for. It is absolutely contrary to UN principles and international law. Is this really what we have come to? A refugee is a refugee," he said.

Mr Sutherland - a Dubliner and former European commissioner and one-time chairman of oil giant BP - declined to say whether Hungary in particular should face a suspension of its EU membership rights, but said a rebuke of some sort is order.

"The treaties allow for various levels of sanctions. The decibel count on Hungary's behaviour has reached a level that is really quite serious," he said.

He noted acidly that the world took in 200,000 Hungarian refugees after the Soviet invasion in 1956.

Mr Sutherland said Britain's response has become tangled with a separate controversy over the role of the EU and the powers of Brussels, poisoning the debate.

"In the case of the UK, the issue has been complicated by the debate about Europe and the role of the EU. There has been a lot of finger-pointing at Brussels, and it is rubbish. The member states are the problem."

Yesterday, British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged that Britain will assist the resettlement of 20,000 refugees in the UK over the next five years.

They will be granted a five- year humanitarian protection visa.

There will be a "significant reshaping" of the foreign aid budget, Mr Cameron added.

Meanwhile, in Germany, Ms Merkel has said the "breathtaking" flow of migrants into the country will "occupy and change" the country in the coming years.


She said Germany would speed up asylum procedures and build extra housing, but called on other EU states to help. Mrs Merkel thanked volunteers who had helped and welcomed those arriving, saying they had "painted a picture of Germany which can make us proud of our country".

However, she said that although Germany was "a country willing to take people in", it was "time for the European Union to pull its weight".

Germany - which expects 800,000 asylum requests this year - could face costs of €10bn next year because of the influx, she added.

Elsewhere, French President Francois Hollande said France would take 24,000 refugees and that quotas for EU states to relocate 120,000 migrants were being planned.

Meanwhile, the flow of migrants across Europe shows no sign of easing.

Yesterday, large numbers of people were reported to be streaming into Hungary across its southern border with Serbia.

Spanish newspaper 'El Pais' reported that 120,000 migrants will be resettled under the proposals, on top of the 40,000 already agreed. The 160,000 are said to include 66,000 who have arrived in Greece, 54,000 in Hungary and 40,000 in Italy. Greece, meanwhile, has requested emergency EU assistance to deal with migrants arriving from Turkey

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the UN Security Council was failing Syria because it was divided on the issue

New quotas drawn up by the European Commission are set to be unveiled tomorrow. (© Daily Telegraph, London)