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Humanitarian partners launch 2016 Regional Refugee Response Plan for Europe

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Background and Context

One million refugees and migrants have made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean into Europe in 2015. The majority – or 850,000 – have crossed from Turkey to Greece through the Aegean and Dodecanese seas. This movement constitutes one of the largest movements of displaced people through European borders since World War Two.

In 2015, the majority of the people leaving by boat from Turkey are coming from war-torn countries. By mid-December, 57 per cent of those who arrived in Greece were from Syria, 24 per cent from Afghanistan, 9 per cent from Iraq and 10 per cent from other countries.

Yet the movement is also becoming increasingly diverse.
While 91 per cent of those arriving to Greece from Turkey are from the top ten “refugee-producing” countries, people of other nationalities have increasingly joined the flow. A small but growing number of individuals from South West Asia, North Africa and West Africa are also moving along the same route in an attempt to reach Europe.

The movements include men, women, boys and girls; young and old; singles and whole families. Many among those on the move have specific needs that place them at heightened risk.
These include unaccompanied or separated children (UASC), single women, pregnant or lactating women, the elderly, people with disabilities, as well as the sick and injured. There are significant numbers of children among the population on the move (both unaccompanied or separated and traveling with families) requiring particular attention; with approximately 30 per cent of the total movement from Turkey to Greece being children. In total, 250,000 children have been in need of specific protection and assistance in 2015 alone.

The international community was caught unprepared for such large numbers of people. While significant achievements have been made by many of the countries involved in terms of humanitarian assistance, the overall response has remained unstructured.

Although efforts were made at the European level in the course of 2015 to manage borders through registration, screening, relocation and return, this has only been partially implemented and often at a very slow pace.

Faced with domestic pressures, several States have taken unilateral action to control their borders, either by erecting fences, other physical obstacles or by re-introducing strict border control checks. The primary effect has been to redirect the flow of refugees and migrants to other borders and countries.
In late 2015, several States along the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Balkans route introduced policies denying entry to their territory to individuals without valid entry documents from countries other than Afghanistan, Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria). While the legality, the criteria used and the quality of this screening raise concerns regarding the legal obligations of these States, this has led to a situation where large numbers of people have been stranded at border-crossing points. Some of those stranded at the border between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia were assisted in December 2015 to return to Athens where they faced, however, precarious reception conditions. A number of them have subsequently left the facilities of their own accord.

It is likely that this form of screening based on nationality and without the identification of individual protection concerns, in the absence of a comprehensive regional strategy and realistic solution, will increase people’s vulnerability to the risks of smuggling and trafficking. The potential for a fragmentation of the existing route in 2016 remains high, should such policies continue.

The majority of those on the move did not have an interest in applying for asylum in any of the countries they crossed through from Turkey to Slovenia. This is particularly striking also for unaccompanied children who wished to continue their journey until their final intended destination. Many people saw these only as countries of transit. Along the same lines, several States saw as their main responsibility the fast facilitation of the transit of the refugees and migrants through their territory, with the assumption that no one will stay. Nevertheless, some countries resorted to detention practices. Furthermore, the determination to move onward, combined with the severe sense of urgency among refugees and migrants, poses important challenges to provide services addressing the most pressing needs and protection concerns.

The continuous flow of refugees and migrants is a challenge for the affected municipalities and local communities. Their capacity to deliver essential services, such as sewage treatment, waste management, water supply and electricity to medical and reception facilities, has been further stretched. Local authorities are struggling to cope with the increased demand, trying to ensure that essential service provision is delivered to refugees and migrants without penalizing the local communities.

As the volume of refugee and migrant flows has reached unprecedented levels affecting the countries’ capacity to cope with it, the vulnerability of people on the move and their humanitarian and protection needs have increased significantly.
The challenge in 2016 is to ensure a coordinated response that not only addresses the humanitarian and protection needs of the refugees and migrants but also encourages States to fulfil their international and European human rights and refugee law obligations.

The following regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan (RMRP) underscores the collective responsibility of States, institutions and organizations to both provide asylum and protection, as well as to respond to the challenges of large-scale migration in a humane, rights-based and sustainable manner.
It presents a set of measures that will enable the humanitarian community to contribute to the protection of refugees and vulnerable migrants, as well as the human rights of all people involved