"Good that Serbia is not closing borders to migrants" - UN

Serbia is a democratic country in the heart of Europe and should not close its borders, UNHCR Representative in Serbia Hans Friedrich Schodder has said.

Source: Reuters, Tanjug
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He added that it was "good that the country is not planning to close its border with Macedonia."

The comments came a day after Hungary announced plans to build a four-meter-high fence along its border with Serbia "to stem the flow of illegal migrants" - a move that, Reuters said, "triggered a swift rebuke from the United Nations Refugee Agency."

Commenting on the announcement, Serbian PM Aleksandar Vucic said, "We were very surprised, and also, we are not going to do the same to Macedonia as the Hungarians."

The news agency noted that "most illegal migrants arrive in Serbia from Bulgaria, which is an EU member, or from Macedonia, which is not," and that Bulgaria "has built its own fence along a section of its 240-kilometer border with Turkey with the same aim of keeping out migrants and it has plans to extend it."

In an interview for the Belgrade-based daily Politika, Schodder said that "border protection is in the interest of national security, but closing borders to refugees is not the solution."

As he put it, it often happens that it is not physically possible to close borders, unless the intention is to erect an iron curtain, which he said might be inhuman if it made the refugees take the harder roads.

On the other hand, the EU countries cannot close their borders to refugees, Schodder pointed out.

"Refugees cannot be punished for illegally entering or staying in a country, as these people run away in order to save their own lives, the UNHCR representative in Serbia said, adding that the agency is "resolved to help the Serbian government to establish a functional asylum system and respond to the humanitarian needs of refugees."

Schodder said that "Serbian citizens are showing great understanding and tolerance for asylum seekers and that the relevant authorities are helping the refugees."

Around 200 refugees arrive in Presevo every day, and they need assistance pending registration, he said, noting that Serbia is a transit country for a large majority of refugees.

On occasion of June 20, the World Refugee Day, Schodder said that as many as 59.5 million people around the world have been displaced by force, and that the number of refugees, internally displaced persons and asylum seekers has never been higher over the past ten years.

End-of-May figures show that Syria has as many as 7.6 million internally displaced people and that 3.9 million people have fled the country, he said. Afghanistan and Somalia follow with 2.6 million and 1.1 million people, respectively, and most of the refugees whom we meet in the streets, bus stations or parks in Serbia are from those countries, Schodder said.

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