Tuesday, December 6 2016

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UN alarmed by European aid cuts to pay for refugees

Update: November, 12/2015 - 12:12

UNITED NATIONS, United States — The United Nations voiced alarm on Wednesday over moves by European countries to cut development aid in a bid to free up funds to support the large influx of refugees.

Finland, Norway and Sweden -- traditionally generous aid donors -- are all preparing major cuts in aid to poor countries in budgets now before their parliaments, while Denmark has approved a major decrease in foreign aid.

The Netherlands is also looking at shifting funds from development assistance to refugees inside the country.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on governments to confront Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II "without lessening the commitment to vitally needed official development assistance".

"Resources for one area should not come at the expense of another," he said in a statement.

Ban said shifting funds from development aid to refugee assistance was "counter-productive" and would reduce opportunities for millions of people worldwide seeking to build better lives in their home countries.

Nearly 800,000 refugees and migrants have reached Europe by sea this year and hundreds of thousands more have crossed borders, many of whom are fleeing the war in Syria.

The Swedish government on Wednesday said it would temporarily reinstate border checks to deal with an unprecedented influx of migrants, making it the latest country in Europe's passport-free Schengen zone to tighten its borders over the crisis.

"A record number of refugees are arriving in Sweden. The migration office is under strong pressure... and the police believe there is a threat against public order," Interior Minister Anders Ygeman said.

"So we will re-establish controls at our national borders tomorrow (Thursday) from 12:00pm (1100 GMT)" for a 10-day period, he added.

The communications director of Sweden's migration office, Mikael Hvinlund, said 80,000 migrants had arrived in September, almost as many as in the whole of 2014.

Sweden has taken more refugees as a proportion of its population than any other country in Europe as the continent struggles with its worst migration crisis since World War II.

It expects to receive up to 190,000 in total in 2015 -- the equivalent of 1.5 million people arriving in a country the size of Germany.

"People are forced to sleep in tents, in offices and in evacuation centres" normally used for natural disasters, Hvinlund said.

"We are not fulfilling our mission, which is to offer a roof to everyone...Re-establishing border controls can help us," he said.

The government has also asked companies running ferries between Germany and Sweden to require passengers to show their identity papers, though the authorities have no way of forcing them to comply.

"Welcoming refugees must be done with order and care," Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said in Malta, where he is taking part in a meeting between European and African leaders on the migrant crisis.

Struggling with the influx of migrants, Sweden last week appealed to the EU to help relocate some of the asylum seekers it has taken in.

Germany brought back border controls in September, in what amounted to a de-facto suspension of its Schengen membership.

Austria has also said it will take border measures to help control the influx. — AFP

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