Human rights official calls for refugees to be resettled from camps directly to Europe

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — A top European human rights official called Friday for refugees to be resettled in Europe directly from camps near conflicts zones to prevent them from enduring long and dangerous journeys that are unnecessary anyway.

Nils Muiznieks, human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, said that since 99 percent of Syrian refugees and about two-thirds of those from Afghanistan are granted international protects in Europe anyway, it was a "chaotic and inefficient policy" to make them take long journeys by land and sea while relying on human traffickers.

"Why make them go through this suffering? Why not have resettlement directly from in and around the areas of conflict?" Muiznieks said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It would be a much more humane solution."

Asylum seekers from the Middle East have been making long treks into Europe through Greece and the Balkans, facing dangerous sea journeys and blocked borders as more and more countries in the region put up barriers.

Macedonia became the latest country o try to block migrants at its border, causing hundreds to be stranded. On Thursday, hundreds of migrants clashed with Macedonian riot police at as they tried to force their way through the cordon.

The International Organization for Migration said Friday that after the number of people crossing into Europe from Turkey topped 5,000 on Wednesday after dropping to just 155 on Sunday.

Muizinieks urged more countries to follow the policies of Germany and Britain, which have already carried out resettlements or have pledged to do so.

Muiznieks, whose visit to Hungary focused on migration, also said that while he had initially opposed mandatory European Union quotas to relocate migrants, he now favored the scheme because otherwise countries showed no inclination to take part.

"Voluntary solidarity has not worked so we need rules-based solidarity," Muiznieks said, calling the so-called Dublin rules — which allow migrants to be returned to the countries where they first entered the EU — "bankrupt" because they put "unsustainable pressures on front-line countries" like Greece, Italy, Hungary and Slovenia.

He added that while relocation quotas were a "first step forward," guidelines for receiving and integrating refugees needed to be shared across the EU. While some countries offer free language lessons, housing assistance and vocational training, others offer migrants "virtually nothing," he said.

"Unless there's a further harmonization of these standards, people will go where they get support," Muiznieks said. "We need to work toward a common response to this challenge."

The commissioner also said that connecting terrorism with migration, like Hungary's government has done for months, was a "false association."

"It actually risks reinforcing prejudice against migrants by linking them with imagined security threats," Muiznieks said. "It would divert attention from the real security threats which are returning fighters from hot places."

Regarding the situation in Hungary, which put up fences on its borders with Serbia and Croatia to divert the migrant flow, Muiznieks was critical of the government's anti-migrant policies and campaigns.

"I took them to task for this and urged them to refrain from such actions because it makes the integration of the small number of foreigners in Hungary much more problematic," Muiznieks said.

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