Friday

13th Dec 2019

EU leaders to thrash out long-term response to refugee crisis

EU leaders are gathering in Brussels on Wednesday (23 September) for an emergency summit on the refugee crisis after ministers agreed to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers.

The heads of state are set to ratify the European Commission asylum seeker distribution plan and discuss the broader issues of the crisis.

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In a letter sent to the leaders over the weekend, EU council president Donald Tusk warned of the "brutal reality" facing Europe, with up to 6,000 people seeking refuge on a daily basis.

He said Europe is no longer able to manage its common external borders.

Tusk's criticism followed weeks of bickering between eastern and western member states and their tit-for-tat responses on border and rail closures after Germany decided to allow in Syrian refugees. Germany later backpedaled and some eastern leaders now blame Berlin for the crisis.

Apart from setting the tone of the summit on Wednesday, the letter outlines some of the main issues to be discussed.

Leaders will debate how better to assist Turkey and countries surrounding war-torn Syria.

The cash-strapped World Food Programme, which has had to cut 40 percent of food vouchers to Syria's neighbouring countries, is likely to get a boost.

"We must also discuss diplomatic efforts in solving the Syria crisis", said Tusk in his letter.

Turkey's ambassador to the EU, Selim Yenel, has said that Ankara wants more in-depth dialogue on the issue with the EU.

"It would be a good idea if we have EU leaders or representatives come to Turkey or other places and talk to the Syrians themselves", he said.

Leaders will also talk about helping frontline member states like Italy and Greece to better cope with the reception and registration of new arrivals, stepping up repatriations, and increasing cooperation with Western Balkan countries.

Most arrivals in Greece end up trying to reach mainland EU through the Western Balkan route. Some 340,000 have arrived by sea to Greece since the beginning of the year until the start of September.

But border closures with Hungary and Croatia means many may be stuck in Serbia with winter approaching.

Serbia on Tuesday activated the EU's civil protection mechanism to help cope with the influx of refugees and asylum seekers in the country.

EU commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, Christos Stylianides, said member states now need to send Belgrade support teams.

"We are in close contact with the authorities in Belgrade to help coordinate the swift delivery of material support offered by participating states", he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Serbia's border with Croatia is causing tensions among former Yugoslav republics. A queue of trucks on the Belgrade-Zagreb highway was 12 km long on Tuesday after Croatia closed the border, reports Reuters.

"Serbia must reply to the destruction of its economic integrity and national policy", said Serbia's prime minister, Aleksandar Vucic.

Croatian interior minister, Ranko Ostojic, for his part, dismissed the threat as a bluff.

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