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Once Migrants Reach Europe, What Rights Are They Entitled To?


A traffic jam backed up for more than 15 miles is the latest image of Europe's struggle to handle the thousands of people trying to reach its borders for a better life. The backup was caused by Austria now inspecting trucks at its border with Hungary. That started after 71 migrants were found dead in a truck last week that apparently suffocated. As people keep trying to enter Europe by land and by sea we begin this hour by asking what rights they have once they get there. We're going to put that question to Babar Baloch, who is the Central Europe spokesman for the United Nations' Refugee Agency. Welcome to the program, Mr. Baloch.

BABAR BALOCH: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: If migrants indeed manage to enter Austria, do they have a right to stay there?

BALOCH: Well, these are human beings above all, and I just arrived from Hungary's border with Serbia, and what we are seeing is that the majority of them come from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. I don't understand how can we classify and qualify them as migrants.

SIEGEL: As migrants - you presume they are refugees, not migrants.

BALOCH: We do because under international law, they could be recognized as (unintelligible) refugees. At this moment, it's very clearly a refugee crisis. Europe is trying to label it as a migrant crisis.

SIEGEL: Mr. Baloch, one idea that European leaders mention from time to time is trying to make that process happen closer to home, closer to Syria, so that people would not risk travels in - on rickety rafts or in unventilated trucks. Is that realistic? Can there be a way of judging asylum claims as somewhere much closer to the Syrian border than those claims are judged today?

BALOCH: Yeah. I mean, what numbers and figures show us is that where 90 percent of the world's refugees are being questioned by the developing of the least developed countries, we have had 300,000 people or refugees and amnesty seekers arriving in Europe, and there seems to be a crisis. Other countries, like Lebanon, Turkey, Pakistan, Iran - they haven't complained. And now when you have the issue come closer to their home, Europeans now or some leaders, some countries, are up to questioning the whole tradition and the basis of asylum. That's beyond comprehension.

SIEGEL: But how much of this problem is about smugglers, traffickers, and how much of it is simply about the crisis in, say, Syria?

BALOCH: Most of it is driven by the crisises like in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. What happens is when there's not enough support in the neighboring countries, then they don't find legal avenues to come to Europe, they give themselves up to the traffickers and smugglers. And let me remind you that smugglers and traffickers have no respect for human life. You know, they are ruthless. And this is what we saw in Austria. We, as a civilized world, have come together, putting in place this institution of asylum. Under those laws, these people need to be taken care of.

SIEGEL: And in Austria, these checks of vehicles that the Austrian officials are conducting, they say that this is not about a border crossing. They're checking vehicles inside Austria as well. Does the U.N. have any problem with what the Austrians are doing right now?

BALOCH: I think our (unintelligible) on the countries is go after these human trafficking networks. They need to be dismantled because they are ruthless. If this is a positive movement in that direction, we welcome it, but it shouldn't be done at the expense of the world's most desperate.

SIEGEL: That's Babar Baloch, who's with the U.N. Refugee Agency. We reached him in Budapest in Hungary. Mr. Baloch, thank you very much for talking with us.

BALOCH: You're welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.