U.N. Chief Calls For Solidarity In Addressing Refugee Crisis

Migrants and refugees from Paris to Greece have slept in tents and near train tracks

Refugee men keep warm by a fire in Mytilene, Greece. — (Getty Images)
Mar 30, 2016 at 1:41 PM ET

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged global action and solidarity in resettling hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees on Wednesday—as the international crisis continues to mount.

Speaking in Geneva, three days after he visited the Zaatari refugee camp that houses thousands of Syrians in northern Jordan, Ban called on nations worldwide to “act with solidarity, in the name of our shared humanity, by pledging new and additional pathways for the admission of Syrian refugees,” the Associated Press reported.

The global organization Oxfam found that only three nations—Canada, Germany and Norway—have made resettlement pledges that go beyond their “fair share.” Altogether, rich countries have resettled a mere 1.39 percent of all Syrian refugees, the organization said in a report released on Tuesday.

More Risk Of Psychosis May Triple Among New Refugees

Ban’s call to action came amid increased tensions among newly settled and fleeing refugees across the world. On Tuesday, police and migrants clashed in Greece, where thousands remain stranded at the country’s border with Macedonia, and are living in miserable conditions. On Wednesday, police in Paris carried out an operation to push a few hundred migrants from the place where they lived: under train tracks not far from a subway station, the AP reported.

Here are some of the latest need-to-know figures on the crisis:

Greek police say there are 11,300 refugees and migrants at a site in Idomeni, in Greece, right next to a fence that borders Macedonia, according to Babar Baloch, a UNHCR spokesman currently in Greece. Rough estimates suggest that more than 4,000 of them are children, he said.

“Idomeni border site is not a proper refugee camp,” Baloch said in an email to Vocativ. “Refugees are camping on the train tracks and in the open green field, without proper shelter for majority of them. The conditions are very tough for those living there.”

Many at the site have been hoping the border will open, fueled by false rumors that it eventually will and that they’ll be able to continue their journey on the Balkan route toward western Europe. Police have sought to explain that the border is set to remain closed. Authorities have also moved about 450-500 refugees and migrants from the site to three proper refugee camps over the last several days. “Currently, there are not enough spaces to move all 11,300 refugees from Idomeni at once, but work continues to make more spaces available,” Baloch said.

Even as the situation in Greece remains dire, 700 people arrived in Greece on Tuesday alone, according to Baloch. The influx continues a trend ongoing for months as hundreds of thousands of people have made a journey by sea to reach Europe.

As of Sunday, a stunning 164,752 migrants or refugees had reached Europe by sea in 2016, breaking down to an average of around 1,885 people daily, the International Organization for Migration said Tuesday. The majority of them landed in Greece, but slightly more than 15,000 people also arrived in Italy.

There was, however, “a significant decrease in daily arrivals in March 2016,” when 24,727 reached the country, Kelly Namia of the IOM Athens office said in a statement on Tuesday. Most, she said, reached the island of Lesbos, while another 23 percent arrived in Chios and a combined 12 percent reached the islands of Samos and Leros.

Compared to the first three months of last year, the death toll from the journey has climbed: at least 531 deaths migrants or refugees bound for Europe died at sea in 2016, marking a 9 percent increase from the 489 reported deaths in the first three months of 2015, the IOM said.

As the crisis persists, the U.N. is pushing to resettle nearly half a million refugees—about 480,000 of them—by the end of 2018. That accounts for just 10 percent of the 4.8 million Syrian refugees who have fled conflict in their country since war began in 2011.

“We need to show Syrian people that ‘solidarity’ is an action, not a sound-bite,” Winnie Byanyima, the executive director of Oxfam International, said on Tuesday. “Countries with a strong economy, good services and developed infrastructure can immediately resettle 500,000 refugees between them – if they chose to.”