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European leaders’ response to the burgeoning refugee crisis has been incoherent and lacking in leadership, ambition and compassion, said Amnesty International as it launched its Agenda for Europe just prior to the European Commission announcing new proposals today to address the crisis.

A Union of Protection: Amnesty International’s Agenda for Refugee Protection in Europe sets out the urgently needed changes in Europe’s approach to the escalating refugee crisis ahead of an emergency Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting in Brussels on Monday.

“The level of suffering facing refugees fleeing violence and human rights violations has reached a level unseen in Europe since the Second World War,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia.

“The response to the refugee crisis in Europe has been piecemeal and incoherent at a time when the need for clear-sighted leadership and radical reform of Europe’s collapsing asylum system has never been greater.”

Amnesty International is calling for a European-wide strategic approach to ensure an increase in safe and legal routes for refugees fleeing persecution and conflict. There is an urgent need for adequate and humane reception conditions when they arrive and streamlined asylum procedures with states fairly sharing the responsibility for receiving refugees.

Almost 2,800 people have lost their lives so far this year trying to reach safety in Europe. It has taken shocking images of these incidents to stir some European leaders from complacency with some now making U-turns and increasing offers of resettlement places.

The desperate scenes in Hungary and Greece have shown that refugees and asylum-seekers’ hardships are far from over even when they reach the European Union.

Amnesty International staff recently witnessed appalling reception conditions and a group of people physically attack refugees and activists supporting them on the Greek Island of Kos.

Amnesty International researchers also reported from Hungary where they met people who had been detained with no food and water and others who were forced to sleep in the open air.

Amnesty International’s Agenda for Refugee Protection in Europe details the problems that must be addressed and urgent and concerted action that must be taken.

European leaders must urgently:

  • Significantly increase support for frontline EU member states so that they can provide humane reception conditions and speed up the processing of asylum applications.
  • Ensure access to EU territory for refugees arriving at external land borders.
  • Relieve the immediate pressure on external border countries through an emergency relocation scheme.
  • Revise EU legislation which limits the freedom of movement of successful asylum seekers within the EU.
  • Frontline member states must end push-backs and stop human rights violations, including ill-treatment and excessive or unnecessary use of force.

For a more sustainable solution, European leaders must provide more safe and legal routes into the EU to prevent deaths on dangerous routes and agree on a common asylum system with equal rights and entitlement across the EU.

Amnesty International estimates that around 1.38 million resettlement places for the most vulnerable refugees around the world will be needed over the next two years. The organization is calling upon the EU member states to offer at least 300,000 over this period, either through national programmes or a mandatory program to be set up by the EU.

“There is a global refugee crisis not just a European refugee crisis. EU leaders cannot ignore this or turn their backs on its tragic consequences. After months of prevarication they must finally establish a coordinated emergency response and fundamentally overhaul its failing asylum system.”