UN refugee chief says Europe must open borders

AP News
Posted: Oct 15, 2014 3:30 PM
UN refugee chief says Europe must open borders

SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The head of the United Nations refugee agency on Wednesday urged countries, particularly in Europe, to review their laws to allow entry to more Syrians fleeing their country's civil war.

Antonio Guterres said on the sidelines of a conference in the United Arab Emirates that a refugee crisis across the Middle East is a global security threat. He urged more legal avenues for Syrian refugees to resettle in Europe, and avoid risking their lives with smugglers.

"This is not only the worst humanitarian crisis in the last decades, it is also the biggest threat to regional peace and security," he said. "It's a global threat."

The U.N. estimates that nearly 2.7 million Syrians have fled abroad, mostly to neighboring countries, and another 6.5 million are internally displaced.

Guterres said that on average, a child is forced to flee his or her country in the Arab world every minute.

"It breaks my heart to see a Syrian family, that has suffered so much, leaving their country and putting themselves in the hands of smugglers to cross the Mediterranean," he said. "It's essential to have more legal avenues for Syrians to be able to enter Europe."

Also in attendance was Queen Rania of Jordan, which hosts some 600,000 Syrian refugees, forming 10 percent of the country's population. Jordanian officials estimate the real number to be closer to 1.3 million.

"The world has a major role in supporting all countries hosting refugees, because that is a guarantee of our region's stability," she said. "There is however, a clear deficit in our global humanitarian capacity. The needs are far greater than the support offered."

Arab League Secretary General Nabil Alaraby noted that Iraqi, Libyan, Yemeni and Palestinian refugee children are also at risk of not receiving proper education, as well as health and mental care.

"The bloodshed witnessed by the Arab world today in different areas in Syria, in Libya, and also in Yemen, require political solutions," he said. "But political solutions are difficult and take a great deal of time, and so they require a new approach for the region."

The conference was hosted by Sharjah ruler Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi and his wife Sheikha Jawaher.

The United Arab Emirates, along with the five other energy-rich nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council, have been criticized by rights groups for not opening their borders to refugees from the myriad of conflicts across the region.

Guterres said he is calling on all countries, everywhere, to do more.

"This is not a responsibility for Jordanians, for Lebanese, for the Turks. This is a responsibility for the whole international community," he said.