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5th Mar 2024

Eastern EU states want common stance on asylum

  • Czech castle: Ministers from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Luxembourg, Slovakia, and Poland met in Prague on Monday (Photo: Florin Draghici)

Ministers from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland on Monday (21 September) said they want to reach "a common stance" with their counterparts on asylum.

The four oppose a binding quota system to distribute some 120,000 migrants from Italy, Greece, and Hungary across European member states.

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But others like Germany are backing a compulsory system.

Ministers are meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (22 September) in a second attempt to agree to the proposal, while on Wednesday, an emergency summit is due to be held in which leaders will discuss broader aspects of the asylum crisis.

The split in views has deepened over the past few weeks as tens of thousands of people continue to cross over the EU's external borders in the hopes of reaching states like Germany and Sweden.

Temporary border closures initially imposed by Germany triggered similar responses in Austria and elsewhere. The moves have raised fears that the EU's Schengen passport-free travel zone could be in jeopardy.

In Prague, Czech foreign minister Lubomir Zaoralek attempted to assuage concerns, telling reporters "all of us who met here today are absolutely dedicated to reaching a common stance".

The scheme involves removing 54,000 asylum seekers from Hungary, 50,400 from Greece and 15,600 from Italy.

But Hungary has rejected it and has instead opted to seal its border with Serbia and pass a law that gives its army the right to use non-lethal force against refugees.

Last week's Hungarian border closure drove the refugees amassed at its border towards Croatia. Some 30,000 arrived in Croatia in just five days.

The piecemeal response has created scenes of chaos.

Croatia at first welcomed the migrants and allowed them to pass through, but Slovenia then imposed border control checks. Slovenia had also suggested opening up corridors to allow the migrants to pass. Croatia then escorted thousands to Hungary before Hungary closed the final stretch of border fencing.

The Czech Republic, for its part, says imposing binding quotas is illegal and has threatened to take the issue to the EU court of justice in Luxembourg.

In an op-ed in the Gazeta Wyborcza daily, Polish foreign minister Grzegorz Schetyna said the country is able to take in refugees but "on a voluntary basis".

Luxembourg's foreign minister Jean Asselborn, who is presiding the meeting in Brussels, said he would do everything in his powers to reach an agreement among all 28 member states.

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