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EU ministers openly clash over how to contain migrant flow

Published 25/01/2016

Amnesty International activists protest against the ongoing migrant crisis outside the Maritime Museum in Amsterdam (AP)
Amnesty International activists protest against the ongoing migrant crisis outside the Maritime Museum in Amsterdam (AP)

European Union nations have openly quarrelled over how best to tackle the migrant crisis amid the stream of new arrivals and continuing disagreements over how to seal off borders.

Despite choppy seas and wintry conditions, more than 2,000 people are arriving daily, according to EU figures.

With the vast majority pouring into Europe through Greece after making risky boat journeys from nearby Turkey, Athens is under pressure to do more to guard the country's borders.

"Their state structure is just too weak to do it themselves - apparently," Belgian migration state secretary Theo Francken said on the sidelines of a meeting of EU justice, interior and migration ministers.

Greek immigration minister Ioannis Mouzalas conceded his country was struggling to cope with the flow, but shifted the blame to fellow EU member states for failing to provide enough manpower and boats to patrol Aegean Sea islands just a few kilometres from Turkey's coast and not honouring pledges to relocate migrants.

Mr Mouzalas told reporters Athens wanted 1,800 officers from the EU border patrol force known as Frontex, but got only 800. Of the 28 coast guard ships requested by Greece, only six have arrived, he added.

Ministers arriving for the meeting at Amsterdam's Maritime Museum were met by protesters in two boats, one full of mannequins wearing red life vests similar to those worn by migrants crossing from Turkey and another with a large sign saying: "Leaders of Europe, it's not the polls you should worry about. It's the history books."

The meeting comes only days after European Council president Donald Tusk warned that Europe's passport-free travel area, known as Schengen, could break apart if the migrant strategy is not sorted out within two months.

"To maintain and ensure the free movement within the Schengen zone, it is obvious that we have to better manage our external borders," EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said.

"Everybody travels on," Mr Francken told the VRT network. "So, the Greeks now need to bear the consequences, and we will go for a kind of sanction mechanism and eventually a suspension, under which internal border controls remain possible for two years."

Austrian interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said that if Greece cannot stem the flow, Europe may need to set up border controls somewhere else.

"It's clear that if we can't secure the European borders - that means the Greek-Turkish border - then the Schengen border will move to central Europe," she told reporters.

Mr Mouzalas called the idea of sending Frontex officers to the Greek-Macedonia border to halt migrants there "illegal" and insisted more Frontex officers should be sent to his country.

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