UN de­cries Balkans bor­der curbs on refugees; ar­rivals in Greece fall

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

GENEVAL: The United Na­tions on Tues­day con­demned new re­stric­tions on refugees that have left around 1,000 mi­grants stuck at the main bor­der cross­ing into Mace­do­nia from Greece, de­nied en­try due to their na­tion­al­i­ties in vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law. “Pro­fil­ing asy­lum seek­ers on the ba­sis of their al­leged na­tion­al­ity in­fringes the hu­man right of all peo­ple to seek asy­lum, ir­re­spec­tive of their na­tion­al­ity and to have their in­di­vid­ual cases heard,” U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said in a state­ment is­sued by his press of­fice. He urged na­tions to “re­spond with com­pas­sion, sol­i­dar­ity and shared re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Balkan coun­tries have clamped down at their bor­ders re­cently to stem what has been an an­ar­chic, largely unchecked stream of hu­man­ity into Europe this year. But there were signs on Tues­day that the tide was start­ing to ebb some­what - although re­lief of­fi­cials cau­tioned that it was too early to de­clare a trend. “Talk about a sharp drop in the num­ber of refugee ar­rivals to Greece may be pre­ma­ture. UN­HCR staff on Les­bos (is­land) report that over 40 dinghies car­ry­ing an es­ti­mated 2,000 refugees and mi­grants ar­rived last night (Monday) and to­day,” UN refugee agency spokesman Wil­liam Spindler told Reuters.

The In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion (IOM) re­ported ear­lier that the num­ber of refugees and mi­grants reach­ing Greek is­lands, the most com­mon en­try point to Europe, fell to 155 on Sun­day while 478 ar­rived at the ports of Athens and Kavala - far fewer than the daily av­er­age for the past few months.

“The drop is sig­nif­i­cant given that, ac­cord­ing to IOM es­ti­mates, some 100,000 mi­grants have crossed into Greece since the be­gin­ning of Novem­ber - av­er­ag­ing around 4,500 cross­ings per day,” an IOM state­ment said. There have also been no mi­grant boats land­ing in Italy, the other main gate­way into Europe, since Nov 19, it added.

In­creas­ingly stormy win­ter weather is mak­ing cross­ings by sea to Europe more dan­ger­ous, and refugees trekking north­wards through the Balkans are now ex­posed to freez­ing cold and snow.

Tra­di­tional refugee haven Swe­den an­nounced it will tighten bor­der con­trols and asy­lum rules to stem the flood of asy­lum seek­ers into the Nordic coun­try and force other EU na­tions to ac­cept a big­ger share of refugees. A pop­u­lar back­lash against refugees is in­ten­si­fy­ing in the coun­try that has taken in the ma­jor­ity of asy­lum seek­ers - Ger­many, while it has be­come harder to cross bor­ders along the main Balkan cor­ri­dor to­ward Western Europe.

Mace­do­nia’s re­fusal to ad­mit 1,000 mi­grants was part of a new pol­icy by Balkan states to fil­ter the flow by grant­ing pas­sage on­wards to­wards western Europe only to those flee­ing con­flict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, who are seen as gen­uine asy­lum seek­ers rather than “eco­nomic mi­grants”.

UN of­fi­cials said the new, un­co­or­di­nated ob­sta­cles that have stranded mi­grants on sev­eral fron­tiers in the Balkans threat­ened a “new hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion” that re­quired ur­gent at­ten­tion given the on­set of win­ter.

“The new re­stric­tions chiefly in­volve peo­ple be­ing pro­filed on the ba­sis of their claimed na­tion­al­i­ties,” UN­HCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in Geneva.

Na­tion­als of coun­tries other than Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are be­ing stopped, lead­ing to protests by about 200 peo­ple, mainly Ira­ni­ans, Bangladeshis and Pak­ista­nis, with about 60 now on hunger strike, Edwards said.

“All peo­ple have the right to seek asy­lum, ir­re­spec­tive of their na­tion­al­ity and to have their in­di­vid­ual cases heard. Proper in­for­ma­tion needs to be pro­vided to peo­ple af­fected by de­ci­sions at bor­der points, and proper coun­selling needs to be avail­able,” he said. About 30 peo­ple are ma­rooned at Mace­do­nia’s north­ern bor­der with Ser­bia, mostly Nige­ri­ans and Moroc­cans, Spindler said. UN­HCR had no in­for­ma­tion on whether the bor­der curbs were linked to se­cu­rity fears over re­ports that one of the Is­lamic State mil­i­tants who at­tacked Paris on Nov. 13, killing 130 peo­ple, may have en­tered Europe pos­ing as a mi­grant.

“None­the­less, the en­vi­ron­ment has sig­nif­i­cantly wors­ened for peo­ple seek­ing asy­lum and that’s a very ma­jor con­cern,” Edwards said. There have been no mi­grant deaths re­ported in Greek-Turk­ish wa­ters since Nov. 17, “so we’re hop­ing this is show­ing a trend where things are start­ing to fall off with the win­ter,” IOM spokesman Joel Mill­man said. “There has been no land­ing in Italy since the 19th of Novem­ber. We don’t be­lieve that this many days have gone by with­out an ar­rival in al­most two years, so that’s kind of sig­nif­i­cant.”

Mill­man also cau­tioned against jump­ing to con­clu­sions. He cited Turk­ish Coast Guard ex­er­cises as another pos­si­ble rea­son for the sharp drop in mi­grants leav­ing the coun­try for Greece. “Although we do note a sharp de­crease, we’re won­der­ing if it’s go­ing to start tick­ing up again,” he said.

About 858,805 refugees and mi­grants from the Mid­dle East, Africa and Asia have ar­rived in Europe so far this year by sea, while 3,548 have died or gone miss­ing, ac­cord­ing to IOM fig­ures. Only 148 refugees have been re­lo­cated from Italy and Greece to other EU coun­tries un­der a plan for trans­fer­ring 160,000 agreed by EU lead­ers in Septem­ber, Edwards said.

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