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UN rights chief decries rising detention of refugees across Europe

13 June 2016 17:37

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The United Nations human rights chief has voiced alarm at the increasing detention of refugees, including unaccompanied children, across Europe.

In a speech in Geneva on Monday, Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein decried a “worrying rise” in detention of refugees in “hotspots” in Greece and Italy.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said he had sent staff members to assess areas along the main refugee routes in the central Mediterranean and Balkans.

“They have observed a worrying increase in detention of migrants in Europe, including in the hotspots, (which are) essentially vast mandatory confinement areas which have been set up in Greece and Italy,” he told the opening of the UN Human Rights Council’s second annual session.

The UN rights boss urged relevant European authorities to find alternatives to confining children while their asylum requests are processed.

“Even unaccompanied children are frequently placed in prison cells or centers ringed with barbed-wire. Detention is never in the best interests of the child – which must take primacy over immigration objectives,” Zeid added, noting, “Alternatives to the detention of children must be developed.”

He also warned that many countries across the continent were showing “a strong trend that overturns international commitments, refuses basic humanity, and slams doors in the face of human beings in need.”

A child looks through the fence at the Moria detention camp for refugees at the Greek island of Lesbos on May 24, 2016. (AFP photo)
European Union states have so far relocated fewer than one percent of the 160,000 people they have committed to take from overwhelmed Greece and Italy, he pointed out.

He also urged European countries to find a way to address the current refugee crisis “consistently and in a manner that respects the rights of the people concerned.”

Elsewhere in his remarks, Zeid also deplored the widespread anti-refugee rhetoric in the European continent, saying it fosters a climate of divisiveness, xenophobia and vigilante violence.

Europe is struggling with the biggest refugee crisis since the World War II. Refugees are fleeing conflict-ridden zones in Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria, to reach Europe.

The influx of asylum seekers into Europe has sparked pro- and anti-refugee sentiments across the continent.

Over a million refugees entered Europe through Turkey and Greece last year and then made their way through the Balkans to Germany and other northern member states of the European Union, according to UN figures. A further 208,000 refugees have arrived in Europe since the start of the year.

More than 2,850 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean so far this year.

The EU has already come under fire for brokering a controversial deal with Turkey to return back all the asylum seekers and refugees who had used the Aegean Sea to illegally reach Greece.

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