Amnesty urges ‘drastic change’ to EU refugee policy

The human rights group urged leaders to increase support for frontline EU member states and ensure access to EU territory

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Amnesty International on Wednesday called for a drastic change in the handling of the refugee crisis sweeping Europe and criticised the response of state leaders as "piecemeal and incoherent".

Ahead of the expected announcement Wednesday by the European Commission of proposals for mandatory quotas for EU states, the rights group launched a five-point plan to help ease the crisis.

"The level of suffering facing refugees fleeing violence and human rights violations has reached a level unseen in Europe since the Second World War," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Director for Europe and Central Asia.

"The response to the refugee crisis in Europe has been piecemeal and incoherent at a time when the need for clear-sighted leadership and radical reform of Europe's collapsing asylum system has never been greater."

The human rights group urged leaders to increase support for frontline EU member states, ensure access to EU territory for refugees arriving at border states and use an emergency relocation scheme to relieve pressure on border countries.

They should also revise EU laws that limit the freedom of movement of successful asylum seekers within the EU while frontline member states must refrain from ill-treatment and excessive or unnecessary use of force against the refugees, said Amnesty.

The London-based group estimates that "around 1.38 million resettlement places for the most vulnerable refugees around the world will be needed over the next two years" and is calling upon the EU member states to offer at least 300,000 over the same period.

"There is a global refugee crisis not just a European refugee crisis," it said. "EU leaders cannot ignore this or turn their backs on its tragic consequences."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday welcomed European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker's plan to relocate refugees from overstretched EU states, but said it was only "a first important step".

According to Juncker's proposal for mandatory quotas for EU states which is set to be unveiled Wednesday, Germany and France would take about half of the 120,000 refugees to be relocated from frontline states such as Greece and Italy.

The United States is prepared to increase the number of refugees it resettles by at least 5,000 next year as European countries struggle to accommodate tens of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Africa.

Two officials and a congressional aide said that Secretary of State John Kerry told members of Congress in a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill Wednesday that the United States will boost its worldwide quota for resettling refugees from 70,000 to 75,000 next year, a number that could increase further. A fraction of those would be from Syria.

Kerry said after the meeting that the United States would increase the number of refugees it is willing to take in but did not give a specific number.

“We are looking hard at the number that we can specifically manage with respect to the crisis in Syria and Europe,” he said. “That’s being vetted fully right now.”

The officials and the congressional aide spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the private meeting on the record.

Shortly after Kerry’s meeting, Republican Sen. John McCain went to the Senate floor to urge stronger leadership from President Barack Obama on stemming violence in the Middle East and North Africa. He stood next to an enlarged, close-up photo of the dead body of three-year old Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian boy who drowned along with his 5-year-old brother and mother when their small rubber boat capsized as it headed for Greece.

“This image has haunted the world,” McCain said. “But what should haunt us even more than the horror unfolding before our eyes is the thought that the United States will continue to do nothing meaningful about it.”

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