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Europe's pushback of migrants 'shameful': UN refugee chief

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This image grab from a video obtained on August 29, 2020, from the Twitter account @MVLouiseMichel shows people onboard the Banksy-funded MV Louise Michel rescue vessel in the Mediterranean Sea, which had sent out a distress signal on August 28 with more than 200 migrants onboard. (Photo by AFP)

The UN refugee chief has lambasted countries that close their doors to desperate migrants and Europe's "shameful" refusal to allow migrants stranded at sea to disembark quickly.

Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said migrants and refugees around the world were continuing to take dangerous routes towards safety and opportunity.

The solution for their destination countries, Grandi told the opening of the United Nations Refugee Agency's main annual meeting, "cannot be to close the door."

"We cannot allow xenophobic reactions, only meant to draw facile consensus and electoral votes, to shape responses to challenges that are complex, but manageable."

He warned of "the dangerous lines of thinking emerging in some of the world's richest countries -- 'externalizing' asylum beyond a country's borders -- violate international law, put the lives of the most vulnerable in jeopardy and constitute precedents which threaten asylum globally."

In particular, he highlighted the case of 27 migrants stranded in the Mediterranean Sea for nearly 40 days on a Danish freighter before it was finally permitted to dock in Italy earlier this month.

Migrants stand on the deck onboard the Sea-Watch 4 civil sea rescue ship off the coast of Malta on August 27, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

"States failed to live up to their responsibilities. As a European, I find it shameful that it took more than one month to disembark just 27 people."

The Italian stressed that "people will continue to flee unless the root causes of their flight are solved."

"Reducing search and rescue capacity, or impeding those who engage to save others, or pushing back people without due process, will not stop people from moving; it will only lead to more deaths and the further erosion of refugee protection."

'Deep disappointment'

Grandi, meanwhile, welcomed the European Commission's recent proposal for a new Pact on Migration and Asylum, calling it "a unique opportunity... to set out clearly how responsibilities will be shared".

In an address colored by the complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic, Grandi also voiced "deep disappointment" at the low numbers of refugees being resettled from precarious situations to third countries.

Dozens of migrants, from Egypt, Morocco, Somalia and Sierra Leone, are assisted by a team of aid workers of the Spanish NGO Open Arms, after spending more than 20 hours at sea while fleeing Libya on board a precarious boat in international waters, in the Central Mediterranean sea, on September 8, 2020.  (Photo by AFP)

"In 2019, fewer than 64,000 refugees were resettled -- less than one quarter of one percent of the world's refugees, in a constantly declining trend," he said.

The United States, which traditionally has resettled the most refugees, has slashed those numbers under President Donald Trump, offering to take in a record low of just 15,000 refugees next year -- down from more than 100,000 under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama.

Grandi also warned of the deteriorating situation in Africa's Sahel.

He said he had recently visited the region, which he described as "the theater of one of the most worrying situations -- a political, security and humanitarian crisis which has displaced millions."

"Few situations have shocked me as much -- the violence, the brutality, including horrifying stories of gruesome murders of parents in front of their children."

In the past year alone, more than 600,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the region, thousands of schools have been destroyed and thousands of women raped, Grandi said.

"We need to restore a sense of urgency in the Sahel response," he insisted.

(Source: AFP)

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