Europe needs more `rational` discussion on migrants: UN

Attitudes towards migrants in Europe "are more emotional than rational", with denial about the realities of migration helping fuel the current crisis, the head of the UN`s refugee agency, Antonio Guterres, said Thursday.

AFP| Updated: Aug 21, 2015, 00:38 AM IST

Geneva: Attitudes towards migrants in Europe "are more emotional than rational", with denial about the realities of migration helping fuel the current crisis, the head of the UN`s refugee agency, Antonio Guterres, said Thursday.

In an interview with AFP, Guterres raised further alarm about the scale of the migrant crisis, calling for a Europe-wide response, "as no country can solve it by itself."

But he said efforts to forge a unified approach to the problem have been undermined by public attitudes that are, at times, irrationally anti-immigrant.

"I think that the discussions about migration in Europe are discussions that are more emotional than rational," Guterres said at the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva. 

"Migration is part of the solution to European problems," he said, pointing to the low fertility rates affecting most European countries and the fact that immigrants often do jobs that local people don`t want.

Rather than trying to manage the surge of migrants and refugees in a way that recognises the needs of European societies, "we have a situation of denial," Guterres told AFP. 

"Those that benefit from the situation of denial are the smugglers and traffickers."

According to the UN, nearly 260,000 thousand migrants have washed up on European shores already this year, typically after a perilous journey across the Mediterranean orchestrated by traffickers. 

The scale of the movement of people, most of whom are refugees fleeing conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, is unprecedented since World War II. 

"What we are now witnessing is a staggering escalation with no parallel in the recent past," Guterres said, warning that in light of the large number of violent crises in the world, including Syria, "we can expect that in the near future the numbers will tend to rise." Guterres hailed the largely effective management of asylum seekers in Sweden and Germany, saying it was no coincidence that about half of all asylum requests in Europe are made in those two countries. 

"In Europe, we need to recognise that some countries are doing an excellent job... but there are other countries that are not doing their job," he said. 

He said it was clear that Greece, plagued by financial crisis, did not have the capacity to cope with the massive influx of arrivals, numbering more than 160,000 already this year. 

Some eastern European countries have responded poorly, "because they have no tradition in relation to asylum," Guterres said. 

He condemned an announcement by Slovakia`s interior ministry on Thursday that the country was willing to take in 200 Syrian refugees, but only if they were Christians. 

"Resettlement is something that needs to be done based on vulnerability, but without any, any discrimination (on the basis)of religion," Guterres said. 

The UN refugee chief had earlier hailed a deal agreed by Britain and France to tackle people smuggling and improve humanitarian conditions for the thousands of people living in slum-like conditions in the French port city of Calais. 

But, he said in an earlier statement, increasing "legal avenues" to enter Europe was key to any solution on human trafficking.