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ICRC interview Red Cross head criticises Europe’s refugee response

The ICRC recently delivered food aid to starving Syrians in the city of Madaya. Maurer said some, but not enough, humanitarian corridors had been opened in Syria

(Keystone)

Peter Maurer, head of the Switzerland-based International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), has criticised European countries, including Switzerland, for not respecting international human rights law and for failing to properly address the refugee crisis. 

“[Refugee] quotas that set absolute limits are extremely problematic from a humanitarian point of view and don’t adhere to the right of the persecuted to find protection,” Maurer told the Sonntagszeitung newspaper regarding Austria’s recent decision to place a quota on the number of refugees that can enter the country. 

In an extended interview with the paper, Maurer said that Europe has “all the skills and resources” it needs to address the refugee situation and knows what its legal responsibilities are.

“The best is for countries hold to their commitments as closely as possible and to be as generous as possible towards people who need protection,” he elaborated. 

Maurer attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he appealed to private businesses for donations to the ICRC

(Keystone)

Maurer pointed out that in its history, Europe had absorbed many more refugees than are now entering the continent. He also said that other countries closer to conflict areas are taking in many more refugees than Europe, so that “the true problems don’t lie on the European continent”. 

He called on Switzerland, Europe and other world regions to “commit to respecting the rules”, donate money and help the ICRC protect humanitarian areas.

“If we don’t do it now, we’ll pay a high price for it…in the form of more suffering people who are forced to leave their homes.” 

Mistakes made 

Maurer also pointed out that although politicians are working behind the scenes to find solutions in Syria, huge amounts of weapons are being sent there at the same time. The worst breaches of humanitarian law are occurring on the part of countries that remain aloof, he added.

“The problem is that people’s desperation doesn’t carry enough weight,” Maurer said. 

Mistakes were also made in dealing with the Syrian regime, the ICRC leader assesses.

“It was a mistake that western countries have not wanted to deal with the Syrian government for years, condemning them and shutting them out of the political process,” he said, explaining that this was a blunder because the regime holds the power.

Small progress has been made, he said, stating that “at least there is a negotiating table” in the form of United Nations-sponsored negotiations, although those have been delayed over lack of clarity regarding who will represent the parties and what the agenda will be. The ICRC has also been able to carve out some humanitarian areas in Syria, but they are “not large enough,” Maurer continued.

Maurer welcomed Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter’s declaration that he wants to become more involved in the peace process. He also called for more financial support for the ICRC’s work, explaining that he was recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos to ask private companies for support as part of a new initiative.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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