Europe

Migrant crisis: EU 'must accept 200,000 refugees', UN says

  • 4 September 2015
  • From the section Europe
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Media captionThe BBC's Matthew Price filmed thousands of migrants sleeping at the railway station in Budapest

EU nations must accept up to 200,000 refugees as part of a "common strategy" to replace their "piecemeal" approach to the migrant crisis, the UN says.

Antonio Guterres, head of the UN refugee agency, said the EU must mobilise "full force" for the crisis, calling it a "defining moment".

EU leaders, split over sharing the refugee burden, are scrambling to agree a response in meetings on Friday.

In Hungary, hundreds of refugees are locked in a stalemate with authorities.

Migrants hoping to reach the Austrian border have refused to disembark from a train surrounded by police in the Hungarian town of Bicske, 40km (25 miles) from Budapest.

Live updates on the crisis

Image copyright UGC
Image caption Migrants on the train in Bicske since Thursday tried to sleep wherever they could

Hungarian authorities want to move the migrants to a nearby refugee camp - but the migrants fear registering there will hamper their plans to seek asylum in Germany and other countries.

In the Hungarian capital, Budapest, hundreds of stranded refugees have vowed to "walk to Vienna" because they have not been allowed to board trains onwards.

Hungary has also shut its main border crossing with Serbia after some 300 migrants escaped from a camp in the town of Roszke, prompting a police search operation.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Thousands of migrants are crossing from Greece into Macedonia in the hope of reaching western Europe

Meanwhile, a Syrian Kurdish child who was drowned while attempting to reach Greece has been buried in his hometown of Kobane on Friday.

The family of Alan Kurdi crossed the border from Turkey to Syria, carrying coffins bearing his body and those of family members who died with him.

Images of the toddler's limp body, washed ashore on a Turkish beach, have been widely circulated, heightening outrage over the migrant crisis.

As the crisis mounts, the EU is facing intense pressure to adopt a cohesive policy towards the migrant flows - the greatest seen globally since World War Two.

Mr Guterres, of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), criticised the bloc's "unbalanced and dysfunctional" system that he said had only benefited people smugglers.

He urged the EU to admit up to 200,000 refugees as part of "a mass relocation programme" that had the "mandatory participation" of all member states.

Image caption Alan Kurdi was buried along with his mother and brother in their hometown of Kobane

In a statement, Mr Guterres said Europe needed to build "adequate reception capacities", especially in Greece, replacing a "piecemeal" approach with a "common strategy".

In other developments:

  • Hungarian MPs have approved tougher border controls and penalties for migrants trying to pass through to their preferred destination, Germany
  • Members of the European Commission are in the Greek island of Kos to examine the difficulties caused by the large numbers of refugees and migrants landing there
  • The leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary will hold an extraordinary summit in Prague
  • EU foreign ministers will meet in Brussels
  • The UK government - under pressure over its response to the crisis - has agreed to provide settlement for "thousands more" Syrian refugees
  • Some 50 migrants are feared to have drowned after their boat sank off the coast of Libya, according to the International Organization for Migration

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'Ashamed'

Hungarian MPs on Friday are also voting on creating new holding camps for migrants, and on whether the situation constitutes a state of emergency.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Thursday described the situation as a "German problem" as Germany was where those arriving in the EU "would like to go".

However, Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn - who is heading the EU meetings on the crisis - criticised Hungary's conservative leader on German television, saying: "One sometimes has to be ashamed for Viktor Orban."


Migrant crisis: Key questions

Why are so many people on the move?

EU countries are under pressure as a surge of migrants from the Middle East and Africa seek to escape war and oppression. Italy, Greece and Hungary, on the EU's borders, are under particular pressure.

Where are they coming from?

Syrians make up the largest group by nationality, followed by Afghans and Eritreans.

Why are people fleeing Syria?

An uprising against President Bashar al-Assad erupted in March 2011, and the country has since descended into a complex civil war. More than 240,000 people have been killed, and around half Syria's pre-war population have fled their homes.

Why is EU struggling with migrants and asylum?


European Council President Donald Tusk has said at least 100,000 refugees should be distributed across EU states - a sharp increase on a previous European Commission target of 40,000.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have said they will present plans for the redistribution of refugees within the EU.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The migrant crisis is the largest globally since World War Two

By Nick Thorpe, BBC Budapest correspondent

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is a political leader who thrives on conflict.

While he tolerates no dissent within his Fidesz party, he enjoys taking on his opponents. But in the refugee crisis now overwhelming Hungary, he is attacking not only the migrants themselves, but, increasingly, Germany.

Mr Orban himself has described proposals for binding quotas of refugees to be accepted by all EU countries as "idiotic" - a personal insult to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

His game now seems to be two-fold: to stir up xenophobia at home by appearing both patriotic and powerful and to reach out to anti-migrant opinion across Europe.

Profile: Hungary PM Viktor Orban

Germany seizes its chance to help

How could EU solve the crisis?


International services had been suspended at Budapest's Keleti railway station but hundreds crammed on to the first train on Thursday, hoping it would take them to the Austrian border.

Many people continued to camp out at Keleti station, and elsewhere in Budapest, overnight. Images showed the migrants sleeping overnight on the train at Bicske.

BBC Radio Four's Today programme has interviewed a Syrian teacher at a camp in Hungary, who said her family wanted asylum in Germany after having struggled to survive in Lebanon and Turkey.

"All the governments make this war in Syria," the woman, identified as Hamza, said. "And now they... prevent us going to their countries."

Media captionMany of the migrants trying to board trains in Hungary are aiming for Germany, as Gavin Hewitt reports

Migrants or refugees?

The word migrant is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as "one who moves, either temporarily or permanently, from one place, area, or country of residence to another".

A refugee is, according to the 1951 Refugee Convention, any person who "owing to a well-founded fear" of persecution is outside their country of nationality and "unable" or "unwilling" to seek the protection of that country. To gain the status, one has to go through the legal process of claiming asylum.

The word migrant has traditionally been considered a neutral term, but some criticise the BBC and other media for using a word they say implies something voluntary, and should not be applied to people fleeing danger.

Battle over words to describe migrants

Media captionThe rules governing immigration to the EU - explained in 90 seconds

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