Friday

18th Jan 2019

Winter may not deter new refugee arrivals in EU

  • War in Syria is one of the main drivers of the refugee exodus to Europe (Photo: icrc.org)

Approaching winter months may not deter people seeking refuge in Europe as the conflict in Syria rages on and living conditions in refugee camps worsen.

A spokesperson from the United Nations refugee organisation in Greece told this website on Friday (18 September) that a reduction in arrivals normally occurs in November.

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“But it is really not safe to predict what will happen this year”, she said, adding that a change in weather might not deter people who are becoming increasingly desperate.

On a global scale, some 60 million people are now displaced, the largest since WWII. Of those, some 20 million are in the EU neighborhood.

“What we are witnessing today in Europe and in Greece is just a reflection of the increase in numbers of refugees on the global level”, she said, adding that the conflict in Syria is the biggest driver.

Just under 470,000 people crossed by sea to reach the EU in search of a safe haven this year. Around 40 percent came from Syria, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told MEPs in the European parliament earlier this week that the spike in numbers is rooted in the loss of hope, dire living conditions, and a dramatic decrease in international aid.

“People are not allowed to work, have no way to organise their lives, and have had their savings disappeared and their living conditions deteriorate more and more. To make things worse, we in 2015 have witnessed a decrease in international assistance”, he said.

Some 4 million Syrian refugees are now in camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt

The World Food Programme has had to slash food assistance by 40 percent and cut one-third of Syrian refugees from its food voucher programme. Over 220,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan stopped receiving food aid in September.

Guterres said massive structural and economic support for the host nations, along with more aid to the refugees, was needed as “absolute preconditions [for] all these flows to be contained”.

EU ministers, for their part, agreed on Monday to increase the European union regional trust fund in response to the Syrian crisis and provide support for Syria and its neighboring countries.

The fund has €41 million. Most of it has come from the European Union budget. Only Germany (€5 million) and Italy (€3 million) have contributed, so far.

Turkey and Syria

Turkey’s ambassador to the EU, Selim Yenel, told EUobserver that one million more people could arrive in Europe, should the conflict in Syria worsen.

“If Aleppo falls to the regime or to ISIS, we could have another flood of a million people from one of the biggest cities in Syria.”

Turkey has spent around $6 billion in receiving two million Syrian refugees. Yenel says the EU, along with member state contributions, has amounted to $200 million.

“We have been facing these issues for the last four years on our own and the most we got was a pat on the back, saying ‘you are doing a good job, keep up the good work’ and now that the EU is facing a few thousand refugees, they are panicking”, he said.

On Friday, foreign ministers from Luxembourg, Austria, and Germany arrived in Ankara to discuss the issues. And last week, EU council president Donald Tusk also visited Turkey.

Yenel says more needs to be done but refused any notion of setting up an EU-funded reception centre in Turkey.

Instead he said people need access to education and health services and legal channels to get to the EU.

As for allowing Syrian refugees to work in Turkey, he said “we are working on it”.

Eight EU states take migrants stranded on NGO boats

France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Romania have agreed to relocate the 49 migrants stuck on two NGO boats moored, for almost three weeks, off Malta's coast.

NGO Mediterranean rescue standoff exposes EU rift

Conditions on the Dutch flagged Sea-Watch 3, an NGO boat with 32 rescued migrants onboard, continue to deteriorate - as EU states refuse to take them in. The youngest on board is a one-year old infant.

Analysis

Goodnight, Vienna! Mixed bag from Austrian presidency

When Austria took over the EU presidency, chancellor Sebastian Kurz declared that his government - in a coalition with the far-right FPO - would use its six-months tenure to promote what he called "a Europe that protects".

EU leaders stuck on asylum reform

Migration was overshadowed by Brexit at the EU summit, with leaders stuck on key legislation. Some warned that free movement could be at risk.

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