[UPDATED] EU leaders put border security ahead of people’s safety, Oxfam criticizes

Published: 7th March 2016

At a meeting in Brussels today, European leaders will discuss recent border closures by countries on the Western Balkans migrant route.

Responding to the EU plans, Oxfam’s migration policy lead, Sara Tesorieri, said:

“EU leaders are once again choosing to put border security ahead of the safety and well-being of people. In the face of a growing human tragedy the EU cannot continue to take a security-led approach to borders and speak of ‘ending’ the Western Balkans route, without making serious commitments to implementing safe and legal alternatives. The first priority must be the safety and dignity of women, men and children.

“We are already witnessing the impact on people’s safety of the increasingly restrictive border measures taken by regional governments in the last weeks. Vulnerable people have been left suddenly stranded, without clear information, sleeping outdoors in the cold, and with no access to water. In Greece some of those on the move have attempted suicide in desperation.

“Oxfam is extremely concerned by the EU’s emphasis on returning to a system that has already failed. The knock-on effects of closing the Balkans route without providing alternatives for the people on the move will likely exacerbate the already dire humanitarian situation in the region.

"European and Turkish leaders have agreed on a deal to keep refugees and migrants out of Europe. This is just another failure of the many EU member states that are letting down the millions suffering in humanitarian crises instead of fulfilling their humanitarian duties.

"When EU leaders explain that they are trying to “break the link” between people risking their lives in the seas and being granted safety in Europe, in practice they risk “breaking the link” with international and European law.

"The agreement to exchange Syrians arriving in Greece for those already in need of resettlement amounts to playing musical chairs with people fleeing from conflict – it is both ethically and legally questionable. It simply confirms that European countries are not willing to find effective political solutions to respond to the challenge of migration."

Notes to editors

  • In his invitation letter to EU leaders, European Council President Donald Tusk asks EU governments to confirm “an end to the so-called wave-through policy of migrants”. “With that we will close the Western Balkans route”, he concludes.
  • As thousands of people arrive in Europe seeking safety, authorities in Austria and the Western Balkans have started selectively closing their borders. These measures are clearly infringing international and European law that protect the right to seek asylum. A coalition of 26 organisations working in Greece and the Western Balkans has spoken out in a joint statement to condemn this series of discriminatory and dangerous measures aimed at deterring vulnerable people from seeking safety.
  • More information on Oxfam's work in the current refugee crisis.

Contact information

For press enquiries regarding the EU summit:

Florian Oel, florian.oel@oxfaminternational.org, t +32 2 234 11 15, m +32 473 56 22 60

For press enquiries regarding the situation and Oxfam’s work on the ground:

Ruth Tanner, ruth.tanner@oxfam.it, m + 387-66-981 502

For updates, please follow @Oxfam and @OxfamEU