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UNHCR urges Europe to show more solidarity with refugees amid more EU border controls

UNHCR calls eastern Europe to more solidarity for refugees like these in a migrant camp in Greece - AFP

UNHCR calls eastern Europe to more solidarity for refugees like these in a migrant camp in Greece - AFP

13/02/2016 08:03

(Vatican Radio)  The United Nations refugee agency has urged several Central and Eastern European countries to show more compassion towards refugees. The UNHCR appeal comes ahead of an upcoming regional summit and revelations that European Union countries are to restrict passport-free travel for two years due to the refugee crisis. 

Listen to Stefan Bos' report:

The UNHCR’s regional headquarters, based in Budapest, is appealing to especially the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to show what it calls greater "solidarity with desperate refugees".

Leaders of the four countries known as the Visegrad group, are expected to discuss the refugee crisis during a summit in Prague, Czech Republic, on Monday.

In a statement, seen by Vatican Radio, the UNHCR says the Visegrad group, should realize that many refugees seek sanctuary in the continent as war, conflict and extremism force millions out of their homes. Bulgaria and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are "also invited to participate," the UNHCR says.

It notes that the Visegrad states combined were hosting just 25,000 refugees last year, a tiny fraction of the nearly 20 million global refugee population.

No bystanders?

The UNHCR's Regional Representative for Central Europe Montserrat Feixas Vihé adds that leaders in the region need to offer safety to people fleeing persecution. In her words "they cannot be bystanders during this unprecedented humanitarian situation. The world expects them to contribute to saving lives and restoring hope for those who have lost everything.”

While she understands public opinion can sometimes be apprehensive, the official says it is important "to give relocating and resettlement a chance to work. It's an indirect reference to for instance Hungary which has build anti-migration fences along its borders with Serbia and Croatia."

Opposition members have also expressed concern that Hungary's right-wing government is linking terror to migrants fleeing war and poverty and wants to chance the constitution to give the army and police more powers.

But Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó has defended these policies and says his nation wants even stronger Europe-wide measures to stop the flow of people from the Middle East and North Africa. "If Greece is not ready or able to protect the Schengen zone and doesn't accept any assistance from the European Union, then we need another defence line, which is obviously Macedonia and Bulgaria, so I hope that we will have some forward progress today." he told reporters.

"You know, it's kind of frustrating that everyone speaks about the necessity of the protection of the external borders but nothing happens and  I think we have to stop that."

EU-wide controls

While Hungary has faced European criticism, documents leaked Friday show that European Union member states are planning to restrict passport-free travel by invoking an emergency rule for two years due to the continent's biggest refugee crisis since World War Two.

Each of the 26 countries in the EU's open-travel Schengen Area is allowed to unilaterally put up border controls for a maximum of six months. That limit can be extended for up to two years if a member nation is found to be failing to protect its borders.

The Associated Press news agency says the documents make clear that EU policymakers are to declare that Greece is failing to sufficiently protect its border.

Some 2,000 people are still arriving daily on Greek islands in smugglers' boats from Turkey, according to official estimates.

13/02/2016 08:03