Monday

17th Jun 2019

EU ministers to hold emergency talks on migrants

  • The war in Syria has displaced 11 million people (Photo: Mais Salman)

EU interior and justice ministers will hold emergency talks on migration in Brussels on 14 September, following a special request by France, Germany, and the UK.

The Luxembourg EU presidency in a statement on Sunday (30 August) said the meeting will treat “return policy, international co-operation, and investigation and measures to prevent trafficking of migrants”.

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With thousands of people, many from war-torn Syria, seeking refuge in the EU on a daily basis, the meeting is likely to further expose divisions on how to handle the crisis.

The conflict in Syria has caused 250,000 deaths, displaced more than 11 million people, and is fueling an exodus on a scale not seen since WWII.

Arctic circle route

Most Syrians end up in UN-run camps in neighbouring countries, while others take their chances by crossing into Greece and venturing through the Western Balkans, or by first landing in Italy via the sea-route from Libya.

A new Arctic circle route has also emerged.

The Guardian on Saturday said dozens of Syrians every month are trekking to the far north of Russia in an effort to reach Norway.

Overall, some 2,500 people are known to have died this year alone in the attempt to reach Europe. Most of them drowned in the Mediterranean.

Last week, the decomposing bodies of 71 Syrian people were found in a food delivery truck in Austria as EU leaders met in Vienna to discuss Western Balkan migration.

The discovery was made after some 200 people drowned off the Libyan coast earlier in the week. Dozens more were reported dead by Libyan fishermen on Sunday.

Immediate action

France’s Bernard Cazeneuve, Germany’s Thomas de Maiziere, and the UK’s Theresa May in a statement released on the sidelines of a separate meeting on rail security in Paris on Saturday said “immediate action” is needed to deal “with the challenge from the migrant influx”.

They urged the Luxembourg EU presidency to set up the emergency talks.

They want Greece and Italy to quicken the pace of setting up reception centres for asylum seekers and for the EU to draw up a safe country of origin list to hasten returns.

France and Germany are also pushing member states to do more on redistribution of asylum seekers, while others, such as Hungary, are clamping down on borders and threatening to deploy the army to crossing points.

Around 50,000 people tried to enter Hungary through its border with Serbia this month alone.

War of words

The 14 September ministerial comes amid a war of words on immigration.

On Sunday, German chancellor Angela Merkel said “if Europe has solidarity and we have also shown solidarity towards others, then we need to show solidarity now”.

France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, was more direct.

He told French radio on Sunday that Hungary’s plan to build a 175-km razor-wire fence on its border with Serbia does “not respect Europe's common values”.

He added that it’s “scandalous" the way some member states, “particularly in the east”, have handled the crisis.

Hungary’s foreign minister Peter Szijjarto was quick to fire back.

"Instead of shocking and groundless judgements, one should instead concentrate on finding common solutions for Europe”, he told Hungary’s MTI news agency.

Germany takes political lead on migration crisis

Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel has said the EU must act to address the migration crisis, or Europe's "close association with the universal rights of citizens will be destroyed".

The day borders came back to Europe

First Germany, then Austria, and now the Czech Republic and Slovakia have begun reinforcing border controls due to the migrant crisis, in a big blow to EU free movement.

EU mute on new Italian decree to fine NGO boats

In 2013, the European Commission declared ships that help migrants in distress would not face sanctions. Now - six years later - Italy's government endorses a decree to impose fines up to €50,000 for rescue boats docking in Italian ports.

Decision on migrant-returns hits parliament logjam

Home affairs ministers are set to endorse reforms for tougher EU return laws to send unwanted migrants home. But an absent lead MEP on the file and a wary EU parliament means their agreement may not amount to much.

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