UN official: A ‘scary new normal’ is being created in Europe

François Crépeau, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said in a statement that it had now become impossible in Europe to have a meaningful discussion about the rights of migrants and their integration.

As the number of migrants making their way to Europe does not show any signs of slowing down and border controls are become the new normal in a supposedly passport-free zone, migrants are “fair game” and becoming the target of increasingly frequent attacks, Crépeau said in an emailed statement to Business Insider.

It said: “It is appalling to see how the discussion concerning migrants has been lowered to the smallest common denominator, feeding off fear and xenophobia, and making migrants fair game for all types of verbal or physical abuse.

“Through slowly stripping away the rights of asylum seekers and migrants, Europe is creating a scary new ‘normal.'”

The number of migrants reaching European shores has risen massively when compared with the same period last year and new border controls and caps on the number of refugees coming are creating more chaos across Europe.

According to data from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) over 110,000 migrants have already reached European shores this year alone, and 400 people have died while attempting the perilous crossing of the Aegean Sea.

In January 2016, 66,233 people arrived to Europe by sea, compared with just 5,550 in January 2015. For February 2016, the number already stands at 44,024.

The three biggest groups of refugees reaching Europe are Syrians (41% of sea arrivals), Afghans (27%) and Iraqis (16%).

After months of European leaders blaming each other for the unfolding disaster, the EU is still scrambling to present a unified front, leading to rising tensions between countries inside the bloc.

The latest spat between two European countries over the migrant and refugee crisis is between Austria and Greece. Austria is holding talks on Wednesday with ministers from countries along the Balkan route, but chose not to invite Greece to the meeting.

The Greek foreign ministry then criticised Vienna’s decision, arguing that Greece was central to the meeting. “Through this one-sided and not at all friendly move towards our country, there is an attempt to take decisions in Greece’s absence that directly affect Greece and Greek borders,” it said in a statement.

With only a few countries still shouldering most of the burden, border controls, caps on the number of refugees allowed to enter, and walls are becoming commonplace even inside the supposedly passport-free Schengen zone.

“What we now see is European governments focused on feeding their electorate with the fear of migrants for clear electoral purposes,” Crépeau said, adding that governments were promising the public to keep migrants out of the country although they had no way to do that.

Crépeau also says attempting to use force to halt people-smuggling operations in the Mediterranean is wrong and that the best way to successfully combat smugglers was to offer safe, official, and cheap passages to Europe for refugees. “European countries must offer safe and regular channels for mobility. It is the only way that European countries will regain full control of their borders,” Crépeau argues.

Humanitarian crisis looms in an increasingly divided Europe

Amnesty International added its voice to criticism of Europe’s handling of the refugee crisis on Wednesday with its Secretary General, Salil Shetty, saying: “That Europe, which is the richest bloc in the world, is not able to take care of the basic rights of some of the most persecuted people in the world, is shameful.”

“The majority of countries, with the honourable exception perhaps of Germany, have simply decided that the protection of their borders is more important than the protection of the rights of refugees,” added Amnesty’s Europe director John Dalhuisen, according to France24.

The Balkan route is becoming increasingly chaotic as governments are introducing more and more measures to restrict the flow of people coming into the bloc.

Macedonia has now completely closed its border to Afghans, causing a bottleneck in Greece and leaving thousands stranded at the border. Serbia also announced a similar move as countries further north have started to impose stricter asylum requirements which would result in the vast majority of Afghans not being allowed to stay.

“There is no sense in expecting Serbia to agree to receive migrants about whom we receive clear signals from Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia that they will not be allowed in these countries,” Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said, according to AFP.

Austria and Slovenia have implemented a daily cap on asylum seekers, and along with Croatia, Serbia, and Macedonia have agreed to jointly profile and register refugees at the border between Macedonia and Greece.

The UNHCR denounced those restrictions and, again, called on the European Union to present a unified solution.

“These newest restrictive measures risk violating EU law and undermine efforts for a comprehensive and coordinated approach to deal with the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe,” it said in a statement to Reuters.

“With every passing week, it appears some European countries are focusing on keeping refugees and migrants out more than on responsibly managing the flow and working on common solutions.”

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