In an interview with BNS during her Vilnius visit, Lindholm Billing said that negatives attitudes towards asylum seekers would change, if people understood that they are refugees and have no choice.
“It’s important to facilitate interaction and contact, to get to know each other so that you understand that that person is not a threat or a stranger. Both civil society and government authorities can really play an important and active part in organizing meeting points between refugees and the public,” the UNHCR representative said.
She also thanked Lithuania for agreeing to accept over one thousand refugees from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea over the next two years.
“I would like to express the UNHCR’s gratitude to the Government of Lithuania for agreeing to be part of the European response to the refugee crisis. Having a united Europe in which states contribute to solving the problem is really the key. It is a manageable situation but it is not managed at the moment, which is creating a humanitarian crisis on the European soil,” Lindholm Billing told BNS.
“The result of the disunity among European states that we are seeing is resulting in thousands of children, women, men walking along railway tracks, roads, boarders in Europe from one country to another trying to exercise their right to seek asylum,” she said.
In her words, the UNHCR has told European institutions numerous times that the 160,000 refugees who have already come to Europe is not the final number and that everything would depend on the political situation in Syria ad other hot spots.
Speaking about the decisions by several EU member states to resume border controls or plans to do so, the UNHCR representative underlined that the Schengen Agreement provides for such a right. But while doing so, “borders need to be controlled in the way that still respects people’s right to seek asylum.”
Moreover, Lindholm Billing said, while handling the influx of refugees, European countries should not only tackle the consequences of the process but also its causes.
„States need to respond to the humanitarian needs in the neighboring region and solve the conflict that’s causing people to flee. At the moment we do not project that the number of people coming to Europe will decrease because the conflict is ongoing,” she said.
On Tuesday, EU interior ministers agreed on the additional relocation of 120,000 refugees in Europe over the next two years. EU members states had earlier agreed to share 40,000 refugees.