UN official slams racist statements by European leaders against refugees

BRUSSELS, March 4 (KUNA) — A top UN official condemned Friday what he described as racist and Islamophobic statements by some European leaders against the refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan who are trying to seek shelter in Europe.
“We also need to counter racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia. The UN High Commissioner for refugees was quite shocked in the last couple of days by a string of statements made by some European leaders. I won’t name any. But I heard from some European leaders yesterday that we need to build an European fortress,” Vincent Cochetel, Director of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, Bureau for Europe and UNHCR’s Regional Refugee Coordinator for the refugee crisis in Europe, told a news conference in Brussels.
“We had a number of statements from some Central European leaders that in my view are clearly Islamophobia,” he said, noting that those statements compared the “arrival of Syrians to Ottoman invasion.” The European leaders also claim that the refugees have different norms, different values and that they are better off close to their country of origin or in their on countries.
“All those statements seem to imply that those people are not welcome” (in Europe) said the UN official.
He said that there is an attempt by some European leaders to re-qualify the problem of refugees. One way to re-qualify the problem is to say that Europe cannot cope with that. Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are better placed to cope with the problem.
Another way to re-qualify the problem is to say that the refugees are not all Syrians or that most Afghans are not refugees but economic migrants.
“I would like more European leaders to spend a few hours with those refugees and understand why they are leaving their countries,” said Cochetel.
He stressed that the responsibility to take care of the victims of conflicts in Europe’s neighbourhood cannot solely rest on Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon or Pakistan.
“The international community including Europe has to take its share of responsibility in the response. To believe that we can send everybody back to Turkey is a myth which cannot work” he stressed.
Ahead of a meeting of EU leaders and Turkey in Brussels on Monday, he noted that UNHCR, today issued six recommendations aimed at helping the EU to solve the refugee situation in Europe.
The recommendations include relocation of asylum seekers out of Greece and Italy, more support to Greece to handle the humanitarian emergency, compliance with all the EU laws and asylum among EU Member States.
The UN refugee agency also calls for more safe, legal ways for refugees to travel to Europe, enhancing search and rescue operations at sea, and for Europe-wide systems of responsibility for asylum-seekers, including the creation of registration centres in main countries of arrival.
“We expect from Monday’s summit some agreement, some reassurance from both sides the EU and Turkey that we are on course to implement the Joint Action Plan that was agreed upon in October last year,” added the UN official. (end) nk.mt