Refugee crisis: UK must sign up to joint European effort to tackle growing emergency

The UK must sign up to a joint European effort to tackle the growing refugee crisis in the continent if it is to play the part it should in turning the desperate situation around, Amnesty International UK warned today ahead of a critical meeting of European leaders next week.

David Cameron’s announcement this week that the UK would take 20,000 refugees from camps on Syria’s borders is a step in the right direction, Amnesty said, but that alone will not solve the crisis and it fails to address the immediate challenge of accommodating the hundreds of thousands of refugees already in Europe.

Publishing a new set of recommendations today for how Europe should deal with the crisis - A Union of Protection: Amnesty International’s Agenda for Refugee Protection in Europe - Amnesty said European leaders’ response to the emergency has so far been incoherent and lacking in leadership, ambition and compassion.

The organisation wants to see a Europe-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 asylum-seekers arrive and streamlined asylum procedures, with countries fairly sharing the responsibility for receiving refugees.

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia, said:

“The suffering facing refugees fleeing violence and human rights violations has reached a level unseen in Europe since the Second World War.

“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.

“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 their failing asylum system.”

Approaching 3,000 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 out of their complacency, with some – including David Cameron - now making U-turns and increasing offers of resettlement places.

Meanwhile, 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 researchers recently witnessed appalling reception conditions and a group of thugs physically attack refugees and activists supporting them on the Greek island of Kos.

They 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’s recommendations to European leaders include the need to:

·         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.

·         Ensure that frontline EU countries 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.

The organisation is calling upon the EU member states to offer at least 300,000 over this period, either through national programmes or a mandatory programme to be set up by the EU. 

View latest press releases