Wednesday

1st Dec 2021

France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and Italy in separate talks on asylum

  • Hungary says asylum seekers from the UN refugee camps are economic migrants (Photo: iom.int)

An emergency meeting in the lead-up to the EU interior ministers discussion to thrash out plans on how to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers was held on Monday afternoon (14 September).

An EU source said a side meeting with ministers from France, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Italy, as well as EU migration commission Dimitris Avramopoulos, took place in a desperate attempt to patch up differences.

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Interior ministers from all member states are in Brussels. The plan on Monday is to reach a political agreement on the EU commission's proposal to distribute 120,000 migrants who are currently in Greece, Italy, and Hungary.

Draft conclusions of the ministerial meeting, seen by this website, show that a formal decision on the plan will be deferred until the start of October at another meeting in Luxembourg.

French minister Bernard Cazeneuve said France and Germany want "an agreement based on a balance between humanity and responsibility. The human tragedies incite us to act rapidly. It is our responsibility, both political and moral."

The source noted that German and French ministers are piling on the pressure to dispatch teams of experts in so-called hotspots to Hungary, Greece, and Italy.

The hotspot centres are tasked to register, identify, fingerprint and debrief asylum seekers.

A hotspot in Catania, Italy, was set up in July. Another is being organised in Greece but has been beset by administrative delays. Hungary does not want one.

But wrangles between EU ministers risk derailing a debate on how to distribute thousands of asylum seekers throughout the bloc.

Luxembourg's foreign minster Jean Asselborn laid bare the mood of the discussions to follow when he told reporters that Hungary needs to stop being a part of the problem.

"We want to help the Hungarians and if they refuse, well…the key to how Europe functions [is] not between the hands of Mr Orban [Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban]. Europe is more than Mr Orban", he said.

Sweden's minister of justice Morgan Johansson made similar comments.

"I don’t like it when countries try to scare people off. Hungary has very vivid rhetoric about that", he said.

Johansson said it is unlikely discussions will touch on whether the proposal should be mandatory.

"Europe should be a welcoming country in that sense, saying we will give you protection but that cannot just be for one or two countries to solve."

Hungary's hard-line opposition against the commission's proposal has intensified in recent days.

Last week, the government declared itself not to be a front-line state and does not want to take any part in the commission plan. It says asylum seekers are entering Greece before they arrive in Hungary, where they need to first registered.

Greece, for its part, has denied claims that it is not doing its part.

Ioannis Mouzalas, Greece's alternate immigration policy minister, said "Greece is registering" arriving asylum seekers.

"We have done our best and now we are well organised", he said.

Slovakia and the Czech Republic are in the opposition camp along with Hungary.

Robert Kahlinak, Slovakia's interior minister, said the commission's 120,000 quota is not a solution.

He said the fact that migrants passing through Austria are not claiming asylum there indicates a wider problem.

"They not only don't want to stay in Hungary or Slovakia, but they also don't want to stay in Austria, and Austria is really a very nice and peaceful country with all the infrastructure they need. And anyway, they didn't ask for asylum, so what is the reason? Are they still running away [from] some threat to their lives in Austria, I think not", he said.

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