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Europe must not 'cower behind borders' in face of post-Brexit immigration crisis, UN warns

The UN special representative for international migration also defended Jean-Claude Juncker after he said borders are 'the worst invention'

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Tuesday 23 August 2016 11:42 BST
Up to 264,000 people have risked their lives this year trying to get to Europe by sea
Up to 264,000 people have risked their lives this year trying to get to Europe by sea (AP)

The United Nations has warned that Europe is on the brink of another immigration crisis and told countries facing it they must not “cower behind borders” in the wake of the UK’s Brexit vote.

Peter Sutherland, the UN special representative for international migration reported that 95,000 people had already made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean from Africa to Italy this year.

With the summer high season beginning the numbers are expected to rise as high as 170,000, despite thousands already having drowned trying to make the trip.

Desperate Journeys: 4,027 refugees drown so far this year

There are already 140,000 migrants, mainly from Libya, who are living in camps in Southern Italy, putting a huge strain on the country.

Mr Sutherland said the Italians were working hard, having saved 70,000 people from Mediterranean waters, and were taking in “huge numbers”.

Asked whether he thought Brexit had partly been caused by voters seeing pictures of the immigration crisis, he said: “It certainly was. Immigration was and is a huge issue, there’s no question about that. But that doesn’t alter the fact that…Europe is the solution, not the problem.

“The only way that we can deal with the migration problem is by having a European policy. If every country simply cowers behind borders and agrees not to cooperate as a result of a response to nationalism then Europe really will be in a mess.”

He also said that arrangements made with Turkey to stem the overall crisis had done nothing to stop people coming from Libya, with migrant boats mainly carrying people from Sub-Saharan Africa.

Overall more than 264,000 people have risked their lives to reach Europe by sea so far in 2016, with more than 3,100 having drowned.

Mr Sutherland then defended comments made by EU president Jean-Claude Juncker after he was attacked over a speech in which he said borders are “the worst invention ever made”.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Sutherland said: “That’s taking a momentary comment out of context, this is a very complicated issue. For this to become part of a histrionic response to the Brexit debate is ludicrous.

“The reality that he was trying to make clear is that one of the great achievements of Europe was the destruction of borders – destruction of the border between Europe and Eastern Europe when Communism collapsed and the development of a Europe without borders. It’s been crucially important.

“For people to deny that, which is the evidence of much of the Brexit debate, is absurd.”

Downing Street said yesterday Mr Juncker's views on borders were “not something that the Prime Minister would agree with”.

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