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Stop violence at European borders and protect refugees – UNHCR

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The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, warns of increasing violence and human rights violations at European borders.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi urged on Monday for greater protection for refugees and asylum-seekers in Europe.  

He said in a statement that violence, ill-treatment, and pushbacks continue to be regularly reported at multiple entry points at land and sea borders.  

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, expressed deep concern over an increasing number of incidents of violence and serious human rights violations against refugees and migrants at various European borders, several of which have resulted in tragic deaths.  

Despite repeated calls by UNHCR, other UN agencies, intergovernmental organizations and NGOs, the violence continues within and beyond the European Union, the statement continued.  

We are alarmed by recurrent and consistent reports coming from Greece’s land and sea borders with Turkey, where UNHCR has recorded almost 540 reported incidents of informal returns by Greece since the beginning of 2020,” said Mr. Grandi. 

Pushed back and intimidated 

Turkey currently hosts some 3.7 million Syrians and around 330,000 others, the majority of whom are Afghans. 

Disturbing incidents were also reported in Central and South-eastern Europe at the borders with EU Member States. 

According to UNHCR, people being pushed back, and suffering a “disturbing pattern of threats, intimidation, violence and humiliation.”  

“At sea, people report being left adrift in life rafts or sometimes even forced directly into the water, showing a callous lack of regard for human life,” Mr. Grandi added.  

Since September, at least three people have reportedly died in such incidents in the Aegean Sea, including one in January. 

“Equally horrific practices are frequently reported at land borders, with consistent testimonies of people being stripped and brutally pushed back in harsh weather conditions”, UNHCR’s chief highlighted.  

According to the UN refugee agency, despite credible evidence, European States have mostly failed to investigate such reports.  

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Walls and fences being erected 

Mr. Grandi reiterated that the right to seek asylum does not depend upon how people arrive in a country, and that those who wish to apply for asylum should be allowed to do so. 

According to recent data, at least 82.4 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes, including nearly 26.4 million refugees, around half of whom are under 18. 

People fleeing war and persecution have few available options,” said the High Commissioner. 

Adding that “walls and fences are unlikely to serve as a meaningful deterrent”, he attested that they would instead, they would contribute to greater, particularly for women and children.  

At sea, people report being left adrift in life rafts or sometimes even forced directly into the water – High Commissioner for Refugees

‘Fortress Europe’ narrative 

Calling for an end to what is happening at European borders, Mr. Grandi reiterated the Agency’s commitment to protect human life, human rights, and dignity, and called for more independent investigations into such incidents.  

We fear these deplorable practices now risk becoming normalized, and policy based,” he continued. 

Maintaining that they “reinforce a harmful and unnecessary ‘fortress Europe’ narrative,” he reminded that the majority of the world’s refugees are hosted by low- and middle-income countries with far fewer resources, often bordering countries of origin in crisis. 

Call for protection 

Underlining that European countries have long been strong supporters of UNHCR’s work and are providing important contributions that help to protect refugees and support host countries, Mr. Grandi reminded that financial and capacity support abroad cannot replace States’ responsibilities and obligations to receive and protect refugees in their own territory

He also called on States to uphold their commitments and respect fundamental human rights, including the right to life and right to asylum.  

“How Europe chooses to protect asylum-seekers and refugees matters and is precedent-setting not only in the region but also globally,” Mr. Grandi concluded. 

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