UN refugee chief Filipp Grandi has called on countries to be more generous in taking in people in need of protection. Grandi also lambasted governments for their xenophobic tendencies, which he said must not dominate asylum policy.
On Monday, October 5, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi sharply criticized countries that close their doors to desperate migrants. He also called Europe's refusal to allow migrants stranded at sea to disembark quickly "shameful".
Speaking at the opening of the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR's main annual meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, Grandi said migrants and refugees around the world were continuing to take dangerous routes towards safety and opportunity.
Closing the door, Grandi said during his speech, cannot be the solution for their destination countries.
"We cannot allow xenophobic reactions, only meant to draw facile consensus and electoral votes, to shape responses to challenges that are complex, but manageable," the 63-year-old said.
Grandi warned of "the dangerous lines of thinking emerging in some of the world's richest countries -- 'externalising' 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."
Grandi in particular highlighted the case of 27 migrants stranded in the Mediterranean Sea for close to six weeks on the cargo ship Maersk Etienne, before they were finally permitted to disembark in Italy on September 12.
The 39-day journey was one of the longest standoffs in the Mediterranean between a boat and EU governments.
"States failed to live up to their responsibilities," Grandi said in Geneva. "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."
In this context, Grandi also pointed out that it was possible to fight against the coronavirus while also protecting refugees at the same time.
EU migration pact a 'unique opportunity'
Meanwhile, Grandi welcomed the European Commission's recent proposal for a new migration pact, calling it "a unique opportunity... to set out clearly how responsibilities will be shared."
Yet Grandi also voiced "deep disappointment" at the low numbers of refugees being resettled from precarious situations to third countries.
"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," Grandi said.
Dire situation in Sahel
The refugee chief furthermore warned of the deteriorating situation in Africa's Sahel region.
"Few situations have shocked me as much -- the violence, the brutality, including horrifying stories of gruesome murders of parents in front of their children," he said about his recent visit to the region, which comprises a dozen countries.
According to Grandi, more than 600,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the past year alone. Moreover, thousands of schools have been destroyed and thousands of women raped.
"We need to restore a sense of urgency in the Sahel response," Grandi said.