Top UN official on refugees welcomes EU agreement on plan for Western Balkans migration route

A group of asylum-seekers waiting at a reception centre to be registered for a temporary transit visa, near the town of Gevgelija in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) after crossing the border from Idomeni in Greece, on 27 August 2015. Photo: UNICEF/Gjorgji Klincarov

26 October 2015 – As European leaders met this week to hammer out a 17-point plan of action on the Western Balkans migration route for refugees and migrants fleeing Syria and other strife-torn regions, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees commended the fact that a consensus had been reached.

“It is absolutely vital for me that Europe, the European Union (EU) remain a continent of asylum; that the sustainability of Europe’s protection of refugees is guaranteed,” said António Guterres, speaking at a press conference on the Western Balkans Migration Route agreement in Brussels yesterday.

Mr. Guterres also said that Europe’s protection of refugees must be a “project of all European countries,” with the “will to receive refugees coming from troubled areas,” while also noting the importance of adequate registration capacities in “hotspot” areas for the registration and screening of refugees, as well as to facilitate interaction with their countries of relocation.

The High Commissioner added that he was concerned by the approach of winter, which would make “movement chaotic through the Balkans,” and warned of the need to “facilitate humanitarian assistance to avoid the tragedy that could occur in the winter” because of harsh conditions.

Referring to the 17-point plan of action on the Western Balkans route, he said that there was also a consensus about a clear distinction between refugees and migrants, noting that “there are people in need of protection – those that are considered refugees. It is not an option to receive them or not.

Europe has the obligation to receive them, to grant them protection and assistance and to guarantee their future.” He also noted that “people that move for other reasons” should have their “dignity and human rights fully respected.”

Mr. Guterres also said that the consensus among those present at the meeting on the migration route was “an important contribution to allow for the right bodies of the EU to take decisions that are needed,” which will not only lead to effective management of the refugee crisis but would also “guarantee the union and stability of European institutions.”

The meeting was convened by Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and brought together the countries concerned and most affected by the emergency situation along the Western Balkans route.

The leaders representing Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia met in Brussels at the Commission's Berlaymont Headquarters and agreed to improve cooperation and step up consultation between the countries along the route and decided on pragmatic operational measures that can be implemented as of today to tackle the refugee crisis in the region.

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