Monday

18th Dec 2017

UN criticises EU's anti-migrant rhetoric

  • Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Europe bureau chief (Photo: UNHCR)

A UN official said Friday (4 March) that the overwhelming majority of people coming to Europe are not economic migrants, but people seeking refuge from war. He also criticised EU leaders for telling migrants not to come to Europe.

“The inconvenient truth is that people are still coming to Europe, because the wars are still ongoing,” Vincent Cochetel, the director of the Europe branch of the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, told journalists.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Syrians make up 48 percent of those arriving to Greece. 26 percent are Afghans and 17 percent are Iraqis. In total, 91 percent are refugees from three major conflicts, the latest UN data shows.

“To call them illegal migrants is a short-cut by European leaders,” Cochetel added.

On Thursday, EU Council chief Donald Tusk said "all potential illegal economic migrants, wherever you are from: Do not come to Europe."

Earlier, European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans was quoted in Dutch media as saying some 60 percent of the arrivals last December are from countries where there is no conflict.

Greece arrivals

According to UN figures, 2,100 people arrived to Greece on Thursday, while in total 126,000 people arrived to Greece as of 2 March. 12,000 arrived in the same period last year.

As the border between Macedonia and Greece is effectively closed, with just a few dozen people being let through daily, 30,000 people are stranded in Greece.

Cochetel also said 30,000 people in an EU member state should not be a crisis.

“It is a self-induced challenge by Europe,” Cochetel said, adding: “I don’t see why Europe can’t manage that”.

Cochetel welcomed that the European Commission pledged €300 million this year for EU members overwhelmed by the refugee crisis, mainly aimed at Greece.

He said Greek authorities will be in charge, with the military setting up camps, while the UN and other humanitarian organisations will get part of the funding to assist the Greeks in managing these sites.

The UNHCR is also helping with recruiting staff embedded with Greek authorities, as ministries cannot hire more staff due to the conditions of the financial bailout for Greece by European partners.

Cochetel said the 10,000 people stranded at the border between Macedonia and Greece still hope they can make it to Macedonia, which let through 300 people on Thursday.

Turkey deal

The UN official also warned that there needs to be assurances that people in need of international protection will get that protection in Turkey if the EU starts sending back asylum seekers in large numbers.

On Thursday on a visit to Ankara, EU Council chief Donald Tusk suggested the EU is now focusing on sending back migrants to Turkey in an effort to sharply reduce the flow of people arriving in Europe.

“The legal framework for that is there for Syrians, but non-Syrians don’t enjoy the same rights,” Cochetel warned.

“Let’s see what the European courts will have to say on this,” he added.

The UN official said Turkey has good laws on paper, but there are challenges in implementing them.

He also said “just sending back everyone to Turkey will not work”.

The UN official urged EU members to step up efforts in relocating refugees across the continent, as agreed last year.

Relocations

Only 603 people were relocated from Greece, which is less than 1 percent of the number pledged last September, UN data say.

Cochetel said countries, particularly in central Europe, that are reluctant to participate in the relocation scheme should take in refugees based on European solidarity.

“Solidarity worked for Hungarian refugees in 1956, worked for people fleeing Czechoslovakia in 1968 and for Polish who fled in 1981,” he said.

Cochetel also said the UNHCR can start resettlement of 400,000 refugees from Turkey “within weeks” if EU countries pledged to take them. There are 2.6 million refugees in Turkey. Last year just 7,500 were resettled.

EU asking Turkey to take back migrants

EU leaders hope to reach an agreement next Monday on a "fast and large-scale" mechanism to send back economic migrants arriving in Greece.

EU unveils €700m refugee fund with Greece in mind

The EU commission plans to spend up €700 million on refugee aid in member states over the next three years. "This assistance, to a great extent, will go to Greece," a senior official said.

Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June

Divisions on relocating asylum seekers remain entrenched following an EU summit. The east-west divide opens up the possibility of relying on a majority vote for a key asylum in June, further exacerbating disputes among opposing capitals.

EU asylum debate reopens old wounds

EU leaders discussed asylum reforms in an effort to reach a consensus by next June, but divisions remain wide as concept of 'solidarity' becomes ever more elusive.

Feature

Lebanon crisis overshadows EU aid for Syrian refugees

Lebanon hosts over one million Syrian refugees, and has received some €1bn in EU funds. Caught in a geo-political tug of war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Lebanon's domestic politics have cast a longer shadow over its Syrian 'guests'.

EU complicit in Libyan torture, says Amnesty

The EU and its members states have signed up to 'Faustian pact' with Libyan authorities in the their effort to prevent migrant and refugee boat departures towards Italy, says Amnesty International.

News in Brief

  1. EU adopts 'track-and-trace' tobacco system
  2. Luxembourg appeals Amazon tax decision
  3. EU leaders agree to open phase 2 of Brexit talks
  4. Juncker: May made 'big efforts' on Brexit
  5. Merkel took 'tough' line on Russia at EU summit
  6. EU leaders added line supporting 'two-state' solution
  7. EU leaders agree to 20 European Universities by 2024
  8. Belgian courts end legal proceedings against Puigdemont

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Catalonia, Brexit, and Uber on EU agenda This WEEK
  2. Macron and Merkel take tough line on Poland
  3. Eurozone future needs structural reforms, EU leaders told
  4. Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June
  5. EU stresses unity as it launches next phase of Brexit talks
  6. Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap
  7. Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group
  8. EU mulls post-Brexit balance of euro and non-eurozone states

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives