Transcript: Ariane Rummery

  • 05/09/2015
Ariane Rummery
Ariane Rummery

Lisa Owen: Turning now to the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, it's trying to manage this trail of tears across Europe and care for the refugees but has repeatedly stressed that with the right action, this need not be a crisis. I spoke to the UNHCR's Ariane Rummery in Switzerland just hours ago and asked how has it come to this?

Ariane Rummery: Well, what's fuelling this refugee crisis which we're seeing now in Europe really picking up the pace is the Syria crisis, and the Syrian war is now in its fifth year. And the situation for people inside Syria and in the neighbouring countries, which are still hosting the majority of the refugees – more than 4 million – are becoming increasingly bleak. So in Syria, you have a multitude of armed groups, you have widespread human rights violations, you have widespread disregard for international humanitarian law, the economy is contracted, people don't have enough electricity, they don't have enough basic goods, and there are 12 million people inside Syria in need of humanitarian aid. So it's not any wonder, really, that more and more of them are leaving their homes and seeking refuge elsewhere.

How bad is it in terms of the numbers that are turning up on Europe's doorstep every day?

Well, so far this year there have been more than 300,000 people who've crossed Europe by sea. Not all of these are Syrians, but the vast majority of them are from Syria or other war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. So this is a huge increase for Europe, where it's the summer months, and so those people who are moving are, of course, moving when they think it will be less dangerous. But we do need to keep it in perspective and that those who are coming to Europe are still just a fraction – less than 10 percent, in fact – of those that are being hosted in the region as well.

Did it need to get to this point? Has there been a lack of political will to come up with solutions before now?

Well, there's certainly been a lack of a political solution to the conflict, and that is all that's really ultimately going to end this crisis. But I think there also has been a lack of support, a lack of enough support from the international community for the countries in the regions like Jordan and Lebanon, who are hosting so many refugees. If I could just give you an example, we're now almost three-quarters of the way through 2015, but our combined appeal of all agencies to help the Syrian refugees in the region is only 37 percent funded.

Well, you talk about not having all the funding you need. António Guterres has been calling for a comprehensive plan, and he's been calling it for some time now, so what would that plan look like?

Well, we need a multi-pronged approach. One of those, as I said is better funding for the refugee programmes in the region. But we also need to make sure that we find more safe legal ways for refugees to get to Europe or elsewhere. People are only risking the lives of their families on boats because they think it's safer than what they're facing on land. So we need massive more resettlement programmes – not just traditional resettlement but also more flexible forms of humanitarian admission, whether that's through individual sponsorship programmes whereby for example you get church groups or NGOs or individuals in communities at the municipal level that cans sponsor people and more flexibility about states allowing that to happen. We also need more labour programmes, more study visas – things like that which will create more legal channels. And of course we need states to keep their borders open and to have efficient and human asylum systems in place to receive the great many more refugees who are now turning up for example in Europe.

What about a country like New Zealand though who is on the other side of the world? What do we need to do?

Well, we can ask New Zealand to look at its funding for humanitarian programmes, the UNHCR or other UN agencies; we can ask New Zealand to look at increasing the number of resettlement places it allocates to Syrian refugees. New Zealand has responded to our call to do that. It's said it will take 100 Syrian refugees from the major refugee-hosting countries in the region, and that's on top of its normal quota. So that's a great start. If New Zealand wanted to increase that, of course we'd be very pleased.

Well, our Prime Minister has said that he's concerned even if we could take more refugees, even if we took, say, an emergency intake, we can't guarantee those refugees will come from that crisis in Europe. Is that the case?

Well, that's really up to New Zealand to decide in its discussions with UNHCR. Of course UNHCR, for its normal resettlement programme, like states to be flexible so that we can place those refugees from around the world most in need. But in this particular case, we've asked states to take more Syrian refugees because of the huge need on top of that.

Ariane Rummery, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

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