UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - European countries were warned repeatedly about the refugee crisis now playing out on their doorstep and the flood of war-weary, desperate people into Europe should surprise no one, a senior U.N. official said on Friday.
Ivan Simonovic, assistant U.N. secretary-general for human rights, spoke to reporters in New York about the escalating migration crisis in Europe, saying it would not subside anytime soon.
More than 300,000 people have crossed to Europe by sea so far this year and more than 2,600 have died doing so. Many of those making the voyage are fleeing the civil war in Syria, now in its fifth year.
Simonovic said the death of a Syrian toddler who drowned off the coast of Turkey after a boat with refugees capsized was making people realize the human impact of the crisis. But the United Nations has long predicted that the refugee crisis would spill into Europe.
“Migration and refugees are now changing routes,” he said. “Previously it was the Mediterranean. Now it’s going eastward ... through the Balkans, through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary.”
“This is something which we were warning all the time,” he added. “You cannot hope to solve this crisis just by closing the door. Those desperate people will go through windows if you close the door.”
Simonovic added that the vast majority of people abandoning their homelands are refugees - a legal term that imposes obligations on countries they reach to protect them - and not simply migrants seeking better economic prospects.
Most are from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Eritrea and other conflicts and crises.
Hungary’s hardline leader said Europeans could end up a minority on their own continent as a crackdown appeared to crumble in his own country, main entry point for tens of thousands of refugees and migrants reaching the European Union by land over the Balkan peninsula.
Hungary has canceled all trains to western Europe to prevent migrants from traveling on and seeking sanctuary in richer countries north and west.
Simonovic said the European crisis was inevitable because countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, which have taken the bulk of the refugees fleeing Syria’s war, have too long been hosting millions of refugees.
“Now that they are not staying in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, it’s Europe that sees them at their doorstep,” he said.
Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Tom Brown