Instead of sealing borders and deploying riot police, frontline European Union (EU) countries must allow safe access for people in need of international protection, Amnesty International said ahead of another round of high-level meetings in Brussels on the refugee crisis, amid a series of worrying border confrontations in Central Europe.
During the meetings in Brussels on September 22 and 23, EU member states are expected to focus on the relocation of asylum-seekers throughout the EU, among other items.
“Failure is not an option. EU leaders must reach agreement on an organized and compassionate response to the arrivals of refugees and asylum seekers to Europe,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director.
“Some solutions are on the table, what is missing is the political will and leadership to see them through. EU leaders have to show leadership and face the crisis head on; not build more barriers and carry on quibbling over quotas.”
Home affairs ministers from EU member states will meet on Tuesday, September 22, to attempt once more to strike a deal on the European Commission proposal to relocate 120,000 asylum-seekers within the EU, following deadlock last week. An extraordinary summit with EU heads of state on Wednesday, September 23 will discuss a broader response to the crisis, and pick up talks on relocation in the event of no deal at ministerial level.
People before borders
Along the EU’s external borders, chaos, unpreparedness and confusion has been rampant following governments’ decisions to seal them, with refugees and asylum-seekers stuck in squalid and dire conditions.
Amnesty International has documented men, women and children sleeping rough with severely restricted access to food, running water or toilets at Serbia’s border with Hungary.
“In the absence of an agreed collective response we have witnessed thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers being pushed from pillar to post, without even their basic needs being met,” said Dalhuisen. “This isn’t migration management; it’s an erosion of humanity.”
So far European leaders’ responses to the refugee crisis have been lacking in ambition, and fail to help those seeking protection in Europe. A key focus of discussion at this week’s meetings, which is causing division amongst EU member states, will be on the relocation of asylum seekers within the EU, with the European Commission proposal to relocate a further 120,000 on the agenda.
Last week, member states agreed to establish a temporary and exceptional relocation mechanism for 40,000 people over two years from the frontline member states Italy and Greece to other member states. But this took more than four months of discussions, leaving serious questions over how member states will agree to relocate more.
Worryingly, the proposals do not require the consent of the person being relocated, which raises serious questions about potential detention and coercive means to force people to move to member states where they may have no family or financial support.
Amnesty International is also calling for increased EU support to improve reception conditions and ensure quick access to asylum procedures.
“As leaders gather again in Brussels, a longer term response to the refugee crisis is desperately needed. This should involve more safe and legal routes into Europe for refugees and moving towards a truly Common European Asylum system, by providing mutual recognition of asylum decisions, together with greater freedom of movement for recognized refugees,” said Dalhuisen.