7 March 2016 - European leaders meeting today in Brussels are considering closing the Balkan route being used by refugees to enter and travel through the EU, in a move Christian Aid warns could be inhumane.
“We fear that this step will worsen still further the suffering of many thousands of people who are already desperate.” said Jenny Brown, Christian Aid’s Senior EU Relations Advisor.
Over 30,000 refugee men, women and children are already trapped in Greece – at least 14,000 at the border with Macedonia - and thousands more arrive every day.
Closure of the Balkans route would worsen the dire conditions in which they are living. Shortages of food and tents are being reported by aid workers along with deteriorating hygiene conditions and fears that people will resort to illegal and dangerous routes.
Nenad Prelevic, who works with Christian Aid partner International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) in Greece said: “People are coming from areas devastated by wars, where generations of people are suffering.
"They are leaving their homes and lives. They have nothing to return to, they have no other choice but to continue on their journey. Why else would people travel with very young children or travel in a wheel chair unless they have no choice? Their lives are threatened.
“I admire their hope and strength; they are very determined to reach their destination. They don’t just deserve our assistance - they deserve our full respect.”
Ms Brown added: “So far, Europe’s response appears driven by an assumption that refugees are a problem to be kept away, rather than human beings to whom we have moral and legal obligations.
The EU has only agreed to relocate 160,000 refugees, and of those shamefully few have so far been processed. The EU must urgently increase its level of ambition, and process those seeking protection far more quickly and efficiently, with each member state accepting its fair and proportionate share.
“The UK, along with other EU member states, should ensure that there are simple, safe and legal routes to and within Europe, including to the UK, for those seeking refuge. People should also have access to fair and thorough procedures to determine their eligibility for international protection wherever it is sought.”
Ms Brown also praised the European Union’s Justice and Home Affairs Council for recognising in its most recent meeting the possible humanitarian consequences of new border closures. “It must seize the critical opportunity of its next meeting on Wednesday to produce an ambitious and shared solution to this worsening crisis,” she added.
In Europe, Christian Aid is working through the ACT Alliance to support humanitarian efforts in Greece and Serbia. In Greece IOCC is providing food, water, hygiene kits and baby items on the islands of Chios, Samos and Kos.
Christian Aid continues to work with our partners in Iraq and Lebanon, providing bedding, food, fuel and stoves to Syrian refugees for the cold winter months. Christian Aid also provides psychosocial support for children and women as well as physiotherapy for Syrian refugees with disabilities.
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Notes to editors:
1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 40 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.
2. Christian Aid’s core belief is that the world can and must be changed so that poverty is ended: this is what we stand for. Everything we do is about ending poverty and injustice: swiftly, effectively, sustainably. Our strategy document Partnership for Change explains how we set about this task.
3. Christian Aid is a member of ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development.
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5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid visit http://www.christianaid.org.uk