EU-Balkans Summit must avert a looming refugee disaster as winter nears
Leaders from states along the main refugee route through the Balkans and Central Europe cannot walk out of yet another meeting in Brussels on Sunday without a workable plan of action that protects refugees’ needs and rights, Amnesty International said today.
Night-time temperatures in the Balkans are now in single digits and a humanitarian crisis looms as many thousands of refugees camp out in the cold each night as they pass through Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria, most of them in the hope of eventually reaching Germany.
“As winter looms, the sight of thousands of refugees sleeping rough as they make their way through Europe represents a damning indictment of the European Union’s failure to offer a forward thinking and coordinated response to the refugee crisis,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia.
“When Amnesty International researchers visited Brežice, a town near the Slovenian border with Croatia, on Thursday night, some 2,000 refugees camped out in the open as the temperature plunged to around five degrees Celsius.”
Hundreds of men, women and even children were sleeping on the bare ground with no shelter over their heads and very little to keep them warm. The Slovenian Red Cross, aid agencies and volunteers were handing out food and water, but had only around fifty blankets to distribute.
Refugees constantly pleaded for more blankets, food and water. One doctor who had examined some of the refugees told Amnesty International that many were exhausted and suffering from dehydration.
“In recent months European leaders have focused on securing the EU’s external borders, accelerating returns and enlisting neighbouring countries as gatekeepers, all the while ignoring the growing and entirely predictable crisis within its own borders,” said John Dalhuisen.
“Whether they are sealing their borders, like Hungary, or, like Croatia, Slovenia and Austria ushering refugees and migrants through to Germany, EU countries along the main western Balkan route are consistently shirking their responsibility to provide adequate reception conditions and access to asylum proceedings.
“The EU has the mechanisms and, collectively, the money to ensure adequate reception conditions to all arriving refugees and migrants; these must be used to end the march of misery being endured by hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants.”
On Friday Slovenia became the first country to request the assistance of the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism (CPM) which is designed to work with EU states when humanitarian disasters strike. It helped hundreds of thousands of Serbs made homeless by devastating floods in May 2014. Those European states seeing large numbers of refugees and migrants crossing their borders in large numbers must also request its help now.
Amnesty International is calling for the urgent provision of heated reception centres with beds, food and clean water and sanitation. Asylum-seekers need to be given accurate and timely information about the relevant procedures, including how to access international protection. The EU agreed relocation scheme must be implemented swiftly.
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