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UNHCR: Restrictive European Policies Won't Keep Refugees Away

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - Migrants cross a frozen stream as they walk through a snowstorm from the Macedonian border into Serbia, near the village of Miratovac, Serbia, Jan. 18, 2016.

FILE - Migrants cross a frozen stream as they walk through a snowstorm from the Macedonian border into Serbia, near the village of Miratovac, Serbia, Jan. 18, 2016.

The U.N. refugee agency has expressed concern over the increasingly restrictive policies being adopted by European countries against asylum seekers. It warns the measures will not stop people from coming to Europe in search of a safe haven.

People in Syria are dying in droves. More than a quarter-million people have been killed over the past five years of civil war. Millions more are internally displaced or are refugees living in miserable conditions in neighboring countries.

More than one million refugees and migrants from Syria and elsewhere made the dangerous sea journey to Europe last year, with 80 percent landing on overcrowded Greek islands.

U.N. refugee spokeswoman Melissa Fleming says it is illusory for European countries to believe they can stop the mass exodus of desperate people trying to escape a life of misery and death.

So far this year, she says more than 80,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe by boat. Tragically, more than 400 of them have died.

FILE - People check bodies of migrants that were drowned as they were trying to reach Greece, at a port near Izmir, Turkey, Jan. 21, 2016.

FILE - People check bodies of migrants that were drowned as they were trying to reach Greece, at a port near Izmir, Turkey, Jan. 21, 2016.

“Despite rougher seas, harsh winter weather, and numerous hardships upon arrival, we are still seeing that over 2,000 refugees and migrants [a day[ are continuing to risk their lives to cross…More people arrived during the first six weeks of 2016 than in the first four months of 2015,” she said.

Last year, the European Union mapped out a plan for resolving the refugee crisis. The centerpiece was to fairly redistribute 160,000 refugees among the EU’s 28 member states. EU officials say only 272 Syrians and Eritreans have been transferred from Greece and Italy to other countries.

Refugees and migrants are seen on a dinghy as they approach the Ayios Efstratios Coast Guard vessel, during a rescue operation in the open sea between the Turkish coast and the Greek island of Lesbos, Feb. 8, 2016.

Refugees and migrants are seen on a dinghy as they approach the Ayios Efstratios Coast Guard vessel, during a rescue operation in the open sea between the Turkish coast and the Greek island of Lesbos, Feb. 8, 2016.

The head of UNHCR’s Europe bureau, Vincent Cochetel, says the relocation plan is not working. Most of the refugees are heading on their own to Germany, Sweden, Austria, and France.

“The vast majority of countries in Europe are not affected by this crisis. Do we want the same mess or do we want some orderly distribution of the responsibility among states. We believe that is the correct answer," he said. "There is no German or Swedish or Greek solution to this problem. Nor is there a Turkish solution to this problem.”

Cochetel is calling on European countries to show greater solidarity, responsibility and trust in tackling this refugee crisis. He warns there is no Plan B. Countries must implement their plan. Otherwise, he says this unstoppable movement of people will continue with tragic consequences for all.

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