Top U.N. official says Europe must open borders to Syrians

Head of the United Nations refugee agency António Guterres appeals for the international community to boost development aid

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Borders must be “open to Syrians everywhere,” including in Europe, to help ease the burden of Middle Eastern countries that have absorbed close to 4 million Syrian refugees, the head of the U.N. refugee agency said Saturday.

António Guterres also appealed to the international community to boost development aid to refugee host countries such as Jordan and Lebanon.

“They are the first line of defense for global collective security and they are pillars, essential pillars, for regional security,” Guterres told The Associated Press at a regional World Economic Forum conference. “If they fall, the consequences will be dramatic for the whole world.”

Close to 15 million people already have been uprooted by conflicts in Syria and Iraq, Guterres said, adding that “many of those displaced live in absolute misery.”

At the same time, international aid agencies and governments of refugee host countries struggle with a growing funding gap for efforts to alleviate the crisis. They requested $8.4 billion for this year, including $2.9 billion for work inside Syria and $5.5 billion for refugees and their host countries.

Both programs so far have received only about one-fifth of the needed funds, U.N.officials have said.

Guterres said the world can show greater solidarity by giving more support to host countries and by opening borders.

“We cannot ask these countries to keep their borders open and to close other borders,” he said. “So it is also absolutely essential that borders are open to Syrians everywhere, that more legal avenues are created for people to come to Europe,” such as resettlement and family reunification programs.

He said this would be a “clear expression of burden-sharing with these countries to... allow them to feel that they are not alone with this tragic impact of the Syrian crisis in their own lives.”

European governments are sharply divided over the issue, including proposals to set country quotas for absorbing refugees as a way of sharing the burden more evenly. Only a few European countries, including Germany, have taken in Syrian refugees.

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