September 4, 2015 / 7:40 AM / 4 years ago

EU faces 'defining moment' with refugee crisis: UNHCR's Guterres

GENEVA (Reuters) - The European Union’s response to the refugee crisis will be a “defining moment” for the bloc, the head of the U.N. refugee agency Antonio Guterres said on Friday, warning that a divided EU would benefit only smugglers and traffickers.

The EU needs to help more migrants enter legally and provide about 200,000 relocation places, according to a preliminary estimate, as well as supporting countries under pressure such as Greece, Hungary and Italy, he said in a statement.

“This is a defining moment for the European Union, and it now has no other choice but to mobilize full force around this crisis. The only way to solve this problem is for the Union and all member states to implement a common strategy, based on responsibility, solidarity and trust.”

Although refugee numbers have been rising, the EU has borne relatively little of the refugee burden of the Syrian war, which has created 4 million refugees in countries neighboring Syria and displaced a further 7.6 million within the country.

No EU country could refuse to do its part, Guterres said, and all must make “fundamental changes” to allow more resettlement and humanitarian admissions and to expand visa, sponsorship and scholarship program and other ways to enter legally.

“Solidarity cannot be the responsibility of only a few EU member states,” said Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal.

More than 300,000 people have risked their lives this year trying to cross the Mediterranean, and more than 2,600 people have died doing so.

Guterres said the image of a drowned 3-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach that has swept across social media this week had “stirred the hearts of the world public”, but the EU had so far failed to find a collective common response.

“Europe is facing a moment of truth. This is the time to reaffirm the values upon which it was built.”

Editing by Louise Ireland

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