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UN refugee chief ‘worried’ for future of European asylum system

© AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA | United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for refugees Antonio Guterres delivers a speech at the UN university in Tokyo on November 26, 2015

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-12-18

The United Nations refugee chief called on Friday for “massive resettlement” of Syrian and other refugees within Europe, highlighting the need to distribute “hundreds of thousands” before the continent’s asylum system crumbles.

Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, welcomed an agreement for the European Union’s border agency Frontex to increase its presence in Greece, but said it was “not enough”.

The UN refugee chief’s remarks followed a new report from the UN which warned that the number of people displaced by war and violence would hit a record high in 2015. Nearly one million migrants and refugees have made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe this year, sparking the continent’s biggest migration crisis since World War II.

“I mean hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people, not just what has been discussed until now in relation to resettlement,” he told a news conference. “If this is not put in place and the tragedy in the Aegean goes on and the Balkan chaotic situation goes on, I must say I am very worried for the future of the European asylum system”.

Displaced persons at an all-time high

The UN refugee agency released a report showing rocketing numbers of people living as refugees, asylum-seekers or displaced within their countries during the first half of 2015, and indicated that the full-year figures would be devastating. The overall number of internally displaced people (IDPs), subtracting those who have returned home, swelled by two million over the six month period to about 34 million, the report said. One in every 122 people worldwide had been forced to flee their home, the report said.

“We’re talking only about the first six months (of 2015). We believe things will be much worse in the second six months,” UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres told reporters in Geneva.

EU heads have met seven times to discuss Europe's external border control system, in an attempt to address the refugee question.

At the same time, conflicts raging in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere are continuing “to generate staggering levels of human suffering,” UNHCR said in a statement, warning that “2015 is likely to exceed all previous records for global forced displacement.”

Last year, the number of displaced soared to a record 59.5 million worldwide, and Friday’s report indicated that this year the figure “has far surpassed 60 million”.

That basically means that one in every 122 people on the planet is today someone who has been forced to flee their home, the agency pointed out.

‘Dramatic escalation’

Guterres, who is due to step down at the end of the month, lamented that there had been “a dramatic escalation” in the number of people displaced by conflict since he took the helm of UNHCR a decade ago.

While 11,000 people were displaced each day by conflict in 2010, the number had soared to 42,500 per day by 2014, and is expected to grow further this year, he said.

“This escalation is staggering,” he said, acknowledging he felt an “enormous personal frustration” to see the suffering by far outstrip the humanitarian community’s ability to provide help.

“Never has there been a greater need for tolerance, compassion and solidarity with people who have lost everything,” he said.

During the first six months of the year, at least five million people were newly displaced, including 839,000 who cross borders—the equivalent of 4,600 people becoming refugees every single day, the report said.

By the end of June, 20.2 million people were living as refugees worldwide, marking a 45-percent jump since 2011.

Syria the main cause

The main contributor is the ruthless conflict in Syria, which by June this year had created 4.2 million refugees, UNHCR said.

Without this factor, the global increase in refugee numbers from 2011 to mid-2015 would have been just five percent, the agency said.

The UNHCR meanwhile pointed out that Europe’s migration crisis is only partially reflected in the new numbers, since arrivals have escalated dramatically in the second half of 2015, a period not covered by the report.

Global asylum applications shot up 78 percent compared to the first half of 2015 to nearly a million, the report showed.

Germany was the world’s biggest recipient of asylum claims, clocking up 159,000 during the six months leading to June—close to the total for all of 2014.

But the situation has escalated dramatically since then, with Germany now expected to take in one million asylum-seekers by the end of the year.

Russia came in second place in terms of asylum applications, receiving 100,000 in the first half of 2015, mainly from people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.

War-ravaged Yemen alone saw 933,500 new IDPs in the first half of the year, while 559,000 were forced to flee inside Ukraine.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

Date created : 2015-12-18


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