United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres (Photo:Reuters)
The UN refugee chief called Tuesday for European states to show solidarity in their response to the continent's worst migration crisis since World War II, ahead of emergency EU talks.
"There is no way to resolve a crisis of this dimension if each country acts alone and based solely on its own interests," United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told Portuguese broadcaster RTP.
"Hundreds of thousands of refugees have arrived in Europe since the beginning of the year," said Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister.
"But the European Union counts 500 million inhabitants. If there was a real policy of solidarity, the problem would be easily handled."
EU interior ministers were on Tuesday set to meet in Brussels to discuss controversial binding quotas to relocate 120,000 refugees around the EU from frontline states Greece,
Italy and Hungary after they failed to reach a deal last week, and ahead of a full summit of the bloc's 28 leaders on Wednesday.
Despite so far failing to reach a deal on the larger figure, EU ministers last week formally approved a plan first floated in May to relocate 40,000 refugees from Greece and Italy.
The UNHCR has estimated that at least 200,000 relocation spots will be needed by the end of 2016, and spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said Tuesday that number would likely need to be revised upwards.
She stressed the urgent need for EU countries to agree on how to manage the crisis "that is becoming increasingly chaotic and unpredictable."
"We believe this may be the last opportunity for a coherent European response to manage a crisis that is increasing suffering and exploitation of refugees and migrants and it is also increasing the tension between countries," she told reporters in Geneva.
The UN agency has proposed a number of measures for addressing the crisis, including the immediate creation of facilities and Greece and expansion of existing facilities in Italy with the capacity to receive, assist, register and screen the hundreds of thousands arriving by sea.
UNHCR said Tuesday that a total of 477,906 people had made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean so far this year, with an average of 6,000 people now arriving daily on European shores.
Nearly 2,900 have died trying, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Guterres also stressed the importance of a proper registration procedure, to make it possible to "distinguish the refugees from those who are not".
This way, people entitled to refugee status could take part in the relocation programme under discussion, while those not considered refugees could be "sent back to their countries of origin in a way that respects their dignity," he said.
A common solution "demands an investment, a mobilisation of resources and a political determination that until now has been lacking," Guterres said.
Fleming meanwhile insisted the crisis facing Europe is "primarily a refugee crisis," pointing out that 97 percent of the some 347,000 who have arrived in Greece so far this year come from conflict zones like Syria and Afghanistan.