Refugees in the Western Balkans are in urgent need of further assistance and protection
In the first week of September, a growing number of refugees have been arriving in Macedonia and Serbia. In both countries, since June 2015, it is estimated that between 2,500 and 3,000 refugees
arrived every day. Therefore, despite some improvements, such as in the registration system and reception conditions, and the constant work of humanitarian organisations, the overall situation remains critical.
At the main asylum centres in Macedonia, international and local organisations, such as UNHCR
and the Macedonian Red Cross
, continue to distribute first aid parcels to refugees, including food, water and hygiene items. Legal and medical assistance is also provided. UNICEF
has created a child-friendly area at Gevgelija Vinojug refugee centre.
However, as stressed by UNHCR
, further assistance is needed, as existing water, sanitation and hygiene facilities remain insufficient, given the growing number of arrivals. Additional measures are to be put in place, especially for people with specific needs. Worryingly, a group of Macedonian doctors refused
to provide medical services to refugees at the temporary clinic in Gevgelija.
From 19 June to 1 September 2015 53,571 refugees have registered their intention to seek asylum in Macedonia
, including 9,305 children. Women and children represent one third of the total daily arrivals, UNICEF
reports; a threefold increase since June 2015. Similarly, other refugees remain in a particular vulnerable
situation. Most refugees are Syrians (43,478 people. 81% of the total), followed by Afghans and Iraqis.
In Serbia, at the recently opened asylum centres in Miratovac, Preševo, Belgrade and Kanjiža, various humanitarian organisations continue to offer protection and first aid assistance, including food and water, as well as legal and medical assistance; also thanks to UNHCR
However, refugees still face many difficulties. In particular, UNHCR
raises concerns about the medical and sanitary conditions at the Preševo Centre, as well as at Subotica. In Belgrade
, many refugees face medical problems, such as injuries caused by prolonged walking, cold and fatigue. Thousands of refugees, including children
, have slept in the open, where the sanitary situation is problematic, even though numerous mobile toilets were located in the park.
Moreover, refugees were witnessed being forced by the police to stand in line and wait for hours to register their intention to seek asylum in Serbia. The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) was told that sometimes the police beat or gave electric shocks to those who get out of line; often they don’t even allow refugees to go to the toilet, except for women and children.
Furthermore, as reported by BCHR, the new asylum facilities are neither permanent nor adequate for long-term stay. Consequently, refugees get registered and move on towards EU countries, before applying for asylum. This puts them in a vulnerable situation, as pointed out
by Igor Mitrović, Serbia County Director of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), because without registering, refugees cannot claim rights and services and have no access to medical assistance.
According to the latest statistics
, in 2015 104,915 refugees have thus far expressed the intention to seek asylum in Serbia; of them, 37,195 asylum seekers were registered in August alone, including
25,106 Syrians, 3,981 Afghans and 2,492 Iraqis.
On Friday 4 September, Interior Ministries of Macedonia, Hungary, Austria and Serbia signed a Memorandum of Understanding
, under which they agreed to deploy mixed patrols and police teams on the borders between Serbia and Hungary, Serbia and Macedonia and Macedonia and Greece. According to the Macedonian Interior Minister, this document will be the basis of further activities to be discussed at the coming meeting of EU Interior Ministers.
See more detailed information in our news brief from 4 September 2015.
Juncker calls for bold, determined and concerted EU response to the refugee crisis
In his first State of the European Union
to the European Parliament, European Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker highlighted the necessity of managing the unfolding refugee crisis that Europe is currently witnessing.
Acknowledging the important steps taken so far, such as the European Agenda on Migration in May providing for the relocation of initially 40,000 people seeking international protection from Italy and Greece, he noted the need for further action in view of the "impressive"
numbers of people making their way to Europe. He mentioned "It is time for bold, determined and concerted action by the European Union, by its institutions and by all its Member States."
He called upon European solidarity in order for Member States to support countries like Italy, Greece and Hungary that are receiving the highest numbers of refugees. Therefore, he proposed a second emergency mechanism to relocate a further 120,000 from the three countries, raising the number to 160,000 refugees redistributed under a compulsory scheme. In addition, he proposed a common EU list of safe countries of origin in order to easily identify people in need of international protection, thus enabling Member States to fast track asylum procedures for nationals of countries that are considered to be safe to live in.
He also called for a review of the Dublin system and expressed his opinion in favour of allowing asylum seekers to work while their applications are being processed. He then called on Member States to re-examine their integration and inclusion policies.
Juncker also highlighted that a common refugee and asylum policy requires stronger efforts for securing EU’s external borders, by strengthening Frontex as well as opening legal channels for migration, therefore making the illegal services of smugglers less attractive.
He concluded by pointing out the need of addressing the root causes of the current refugee crisis, namely the war and instability in the neighbouring to Europe countries. To this end, he announced the Commission’s proposal of establishing an emergency Trust Fund, starting with €1.8 billion from our common EU financial means to address the crises in the Sahel and Lake Chad regions, the Horn of Africa, and the North of Africa.
“With his State of the Union address, President Juncker’s joins ECRE and other NGOs who have been saying that Europe cannot turn its back on people fleeing from conflict zones like Syria, Iraq, Eritrea or Afghanistan. He also opens the door for additional channels for refugees to reach Europe in a safe and legal manner, which has been long standing demand from our side. It is now in the hands of the Member States to show solidarity and a real union within the EU,” said Michael Diedring, ECRE’s Secretary General.
For further information:
REPORTS AND NGO ACTIONS
#WeApologise: CSO Open Letter to People Fleeing War, Persecution and Poverty
As Europeans, #WeApologise on behalf of our national and European leaders for their inexcusable lack of coordinated humanitarian aid to the situation you and thousands of others are in while crossing our borders to escape war, persecution and poverty.
We understand that making this journey was not an easy decision for you and may have involved putting the lives of your loved ones at risk, or worse. We will continue to urge our decision-makers to provide safe and regular channels to the EU, so that your wellbeing does not rest in the hands of people smugglers.
Civil society organisations and thousands of people across the EU are taking a stand despite many governments’ inaction by opening their homes, sharing their food and donating their clothes. We will keep pressuring our politicians to fulfil their humanitarian obligation to ensure the provision of such services rather than leaving it up to individuals or organisations to provide them without support.
The decision you made that led you here to Europe required a lot of courage. We implore our leaders to demonstrate the same courage by coming together to find a pan-European response that respects each individual’s human rights regardless of their status
While several of our leaders seem to have forgotten the EU’s core values of solidarity and human rights, we have not. The EU has the capacity to welcome you with open arms, and the unwillingness to do so is an embarrassment to us. We acknowledge your right to seek refuge in safer regions and to be treated with dignity. We also recognise the contribution that you can make and we will fight to give you this opportunity.
(Click here to see signatories)