Tuesday

20th Aug 2019

EU to fortify external borders to stem migrant flow

  • Tusk: 'It is clear that the greatest tide of refugees and migrants is yet to come' (Photo: The European Union)

The EU is forging ahead with plans to restore control of its external borders amid a refugee crisis unlike anything seen in recent history.

Among the ideas announced in the early morning of Thursday (24 September), is the establishment of EU-run quarantine centres for new asylum arrivals by the end of November and a proposal for an EU border and coast guard system by December.

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  • Orban: 'If they don't like the fence, then we can let the migrants though to Austria and Germany'. (Photo: Freedom House)

The gathering in Brussels followed weeks of bickering between member states and tit-for-tat border and rail closures amid a massive influx of asylum seekers and refugees.

Thursday's plan is part of a larger ambition to deport people with no right to international protection after ministers earlier in the week had agreed to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece.

"We cannot continue like we did before. Without changing the current paradigm, the Schengen area will only exist in theory", EU council chief Donald Tusk told reporters.

The summit ended with a short statement and bullet-point document on actions, described by Judith Sunderland at Human Rights Watch as anti-refugee.

"Almost everything in the document is about reinforcing borders, stopping people from reaching the borders, and sending people back if they do", she said in a statement.

The document said the EU would reinforce cooperation with Turkey to stem migratory flows and that more efforts will be made to assist the Western Balkan countries.

But it also proposed providing an additional €1 billion to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the cash-strapped World Food Programme.

Tusk warned that millions of Syrians are still likely to make the journey to the EU in search of refuge.

"It is clear that greatest tide of refugees and migrants is yet to come", he said.

The quarantine centres – also known as hotspots – will separate legitimate asylum seekers from others not entitled to international protection. People will be finger printed and registered. Rejected applicants will be returned back to their home countries.

The centres are being set up in Greece and Italy with support from the EU border agency Frontex, the European asylum support office (EASO), and the EU police agency, Europol.

But the zones have been hit with administrative and logistical delays. Frontex still needs to deploy staff to help with fingerprinting in Italy. EASO experts have also yet to be sent.

Greece has still not set up a first reception centre on the Greek island of Kos, where most asylum seekers first disembark.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the summit that Bulgaria also wants a hotspot scheme.

Merkel said that setting up fences between member states is not the solution to the problem. She added that it needs to be made clear to economic migrants that they will not get the protection they are counting on.

"We are all committed to offer sanctuary, those who are fleeing can't have a choice,” Merkel said in regard to refugees who insist on seeking asylum in Germany.

Her comments were directed towards Hungary's decision to erect a razor-wire fence on the Serb border. But Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban shot back.

"If they don't like the fence, then we can let the migrants though to Austria and Germany", he said.

Beefed up border controls

Clamping down on the EU frontier may also include shifting border controls to the EU level. Plans are in the works for the European Commission to propose in December a so-called European border and coast guard system.

This includes expanding Frontex with more personal and more money. The Commission wants 60 more posts at the Warsaw-based agency.

Tusk said EU leaders had shown little enthusiasm for the idea but had agreed to continue talks about a "possible common European policy when it comes to external borders."

The EU is also discussing €1 billion fund for Turkey for 2015 to 2016 to help with refugees. The money would go towards infrastructure support to health services and education.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be meeting with Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on 5 October.

Tusk is also set to meet Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu in New York.

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