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18th Jan 2020

EU asylum system is 'dysfunctional'

  • Syrian woman and child leaving the country on foot (Photo: UNHCR)

European countries received sharp criticism for their handling of the Syrian refugee crisis on Tuesday (3 February), with a top UN official calling the EU's asylum system "very dysfunctional".

The criticism comes a day after the EU's border agency Frontex announced it detected 2.5 times more irregular border-crossings in 2014 than in the year before.

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It said the increase was “mostly connected to the increasing number of refugees and displaced people worldwide, related to the ongoing conflict in Syria and its spread to Iraq”.

Fighting in Syria and Iraq have caused the largest refugee crisis worldwide since the Second World War.

There are now around 50 million people displaced due to conflicts and persecution around the globe, according to UN estimates.

In 2013, EU member states granted 135,700 asylum seekers their protection. Preliminary figures suggest the number will be higher in 2014.

Syrians were the largest group in 2013, with 35,800 granted asylum. However, more than six out of 10 Syrian asylum seekers were given asylum in only two EU countries: Sweden and Germany.

“Sweden and Germany are doing the right thing but it is absolutely essential that other countries do the same, that all assume their responsibilities”, said UN high commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, according to a report by Reuters.

“Unfortunately we have today a very dysfunctional European asylum system”.

Guterres made his remarks on Tuesday at a press conference in Stockholm.

On the same day Nils Muiznieks called on Europe to accept more Syrian refugees.

Muiznieks is human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, an international organisation with 47 member states.

“Europe must continue to respond readily and generously to UNHCR’s appeals to support Syria’s neighbouring countries. This should not only mean financial help: European states, especially the biggest and wealthiest, should show international solidarity also by taking in more Syrian refugees, through relocation and humanitarian admission, as well as other specific programmes”, he said.

Muiznieks praised the announcement by some EU countries that they would increase the numbers of Syrians they take in as a “positive move”.

“However, these numbers should not give rise to complacency. In fact, from 2011 until now, Europe, one of the globe’s wealthiest regions, has received only around 6 percent of all Syrian refugees”.

Muiznieks also called on European countries to “step up the integration of Syrian refugees into their societies”.

“Given the protracted nature of the Syrian conflict, many of these refugees are likely to remain in Europe and become citizens of their host countries. This is true also of countries like Hungary, Bulgaria or Serbia, which until now have seen themselves as transit countries.”

On Monday (2 February), Frontex announced that it spotted people trying to enter Europe in irregular ways around 278,000 times in 2014.

Frontex also signalled "a radical scaling up of the means of transport acquired by smugglers to ship migrants from Turkey to the EU".

In December at least seven cargo vessels were intercepted from Turkey, carrying over 3,000 migrants.

"In­deed, an increasing number of migrants are present in Turkey and ready to pay large sums of money for their trip to Europe (up to EUR 7 000). The large profit associated with low risk for the main smugglers, are likely to trigger similar incidents in the future", the Frontex statement on Monday said.

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