UN refugee chief seeks better EU cooperation on migrants

AP News
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Posted: Aug 26, 2015 4:15 PM

GENEVA (AP) — The Europe Union's asylum system is "completely dysfunctional," the head of the U.N. refugee agency said Wednesday, urging the bloc to better coordinate its response to the influx of thousands of refugees fleeing violence in Africa and the Middle East.

Antonio Guterres, speaking in Geneva after meeting with France's interior minister, said the response could include EU deployment of triage centers to register migrants pouring into countries like Italy and Greece. Such "hotspots" could help officials distinguish refugees from others who "don't need protection," the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said, alluding to economic migrants.

"The European system of asylum is completely dysfunctional today," Guterres said. "Each (country) must do its job."

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said EU founding countries like France and Germany have to convince their partners to do more. He said France has taken a leading role, and has taken in 5,700 Syrian refugees since 2012. The U.N. estimates that more than 4 million people have fled Syria — mostly to neighboring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Cazeneuve noted reticence about "hotspots" in Italy and Greece, but said EU partners could send support "if those countries accept."

In Italy, Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni bristled at comments earlier this week from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande that Italy and Greece must open asylum registration centers by the end of the year.

"Asking Italy and Greece to do their homework on immigration is like asking countries hit by floods to increase production of umbrellas," Gentiloni told Corriere della Sera. "Europe has to go in the exact opposite direction than to beat up on frontier countries."

Guterres said the UNHCR believes it's "perfectly acceptable" for countries facing outsized migrant inflows to ask the EU for help in registering those migrants.

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Nicole Winfield contributed from Rome.