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UN calls for full, swift implementation of European proposals for refugee crisis

11 September 2015 – The United Nations refugee agency today welcomed the European Commission's proposals unveiled last Wednesday to address the current refugee crisis in Europe, adding that given the urgency of the situation, these proposals need to be implemented fully and swiftly.

"The proposed relocation scheme for 160,000 refugees from Greece, Italy and Hungary would go a long way to address this crisis," William Spindler, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said during a press briefing in Geneva.

"Our initial estimates indicate even higher needs, but the focus must now be on ensuring that all Member States take part in this initiative, and that it is swiftly implemented. When relocating them, refugees' needs, preferences and specific qualifications should be taken into account to the extent possible," he added.

UNHCR said the relocation scheme can only succeed if it is accompanied by large-scale emergency reception, assistance and registration efforts in the countries most impacted by arrivals, particularly Greece, Hungary and Italy. To support these countries, it underlined that the EU should mobilize its asylum, migration, and civil protection agencies and mechanisms, including the resources of member States, with the support of UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and civil society.

"When disembarking in Europe or entering the European Union, refugees must find a welcoming environment and immediate response to their basic needs," Mr. Spindler stated.

UNHCR also welcomed the reference to opening legal channels for migration and encouraged member States to expand these legal avenues for refugees, through enhanced resettlement and humanitarian admission, family reunification, humanitarian visas, and other schemes. With more legal alternatives to reach safety in Europe, the agency said fewer people in need of international protection will be forced to resort to smugglers and undertake dangerous irregular journeys.

Meanwhile, while calling for strong measures to be taken against people traffickers and smugglers, UNHCR insisted that the management of borders needs to be consistent with national, EU and international law, including guaranteeing the right to seek asylum.

Mr. Spindler further underlined that UNHCR supports States implementing effective return policies for individuals found not to have a valid protection claim and who cannot benefit from alternative legal means to regularise their stay.

"These persons should be assisted to return quickly to their home countries, in full respect of their human rights," he stated.

UNHCR added it is pleased to see a reference in the Commission's proposals to the critical need to address the root causes of forced displacement around the world.

"A comprehensive response to refugee situations needs diplomacy, political will, and concerted action for the prevention, as well as resolution, of conflicts that force people to move," the spokesperson continued. "Greater investment in conflict prevention and resolution as well as durable solutions should therefore form an integral part of Europe's comprehensive approach to addressing forced displacement."

In addition, efforts to address the root causes of the refugee crisis should include increased funding for humanitarian assistance to refugees and economic support to hosting countries, most notably around Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Somalia, he stated.

UNHCR reported it is already ramping up its capacity in all countries affected by the current refugee flows and said it is ready to fully support all measures by the European Union in effectively responding to the present crisis.

Also today, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed its deep concern at the current migration crisis in Europe, and underscored that the "continued shocking images that ricochet around the world do not tell the full extent of the devastating, and at times irreversible, impact" on children.

Ahead of the 14 September meeting in Brussels dedicated to the situation of migration outside and inside the European Union, the Committee urged EU Ministers to adopt a child rights-based approach when planning, discussing and implementing the measures designed to strengthen the European response.

"All European States have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and have committed to ensuring rights to all children that come under their jurisdiction irrespective of their legal status, and without discrimination of any kind," said the Committee's Chairperson, Benyam Dawit Mezmur.

He underlined that the majority of these children have already experienced human rights violations before leaving their countries of origin, and subjecting them to yet more violations within European borders through laws and treatment that are not child-friendly constitutes an additional serious violation of Convention obligations.

"The obligation to respect and protect the right of the child to freedom from all forms of violence – physical or mental, intentional or non-intentional – needs to be upheld by all branches of governments," Mr. Mezmur added, noting increasing visual evidence of police and other authorities acting in ways that may physically harm or traumatize migrant children.

He added that the Committee expects all governments to fully commit to placing at the heart of their responses their legal obligations towards children in a migration situation.

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