EU convenes emergency migration talks amid calls for more action

2015-08-30 21:03
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Brussels - European Union's (EU) interior ministers are to hold emergency talks on September 14 aimed at improving the bloc's response to the current migration crisis, the EU's rotating presidency announced on Sunday.

Europe is grappling with the biggest flow of migrants since WWII. Many of them are fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, risking their lives in perilous journeys to reach affluent Western states.

"The situation of migration phenomena outside and inside the European Union has recently taken unprecedented proportions," the Luxembourg presidency of the EU said in a statement.

The talks will focus on procedures to return migrants home if their asylum claim is rejected, cooperation with third countries, and measures to prevent the trafficking of migrants, the statement said.

Earlier, the interior ministers of Germany, France and Britain called for an emergency meeting to be convened in the coming two weeks, in a joint statement issued after they held talks on Saturday.

"We are all agreed that we cannot lose any more time," said German Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere. "The current situation requires immediate action and solidarity within Europe."

De Maiziere, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and British Home Secretary Teresa May also called for the speedy implementation of hotspots to register and fingerprint migrants and identify those with genuine refugee claims, as well as rapid agreement on an EU-wide list of safe countries to which migrants can be returned.

Greece is under particular pressure, as the economically embattled country has become the new favoured entry point for people trying to reach Western Europe.

A 17-year-old migrant died there after getting caught in a crossfire between EU border patrol officers and a group of people smugglers, a Greek official reported on Sunday.

"I regret the loss of life of this young person," Christos Zois, a deputy minister with oversight of the coast guard, wrote in a statement.

The incident occurred near the Greek island of Symi when agents of the EU border agency Frontex encountered and tried to intercept armed men moving a group of 60 migrants by speedboat, Greek state television reported.

According to unofficial reports from coast guard sources, there was an exchange of fire before the agents stopped the boat and arrested three smugglers. They discovered the teenager below deck, dead from a bullet wound.

Every day, Greek ferries are bringing thousands of migrants to the mainland. Most seek to head further west via the so-called Balkan Route through Macedonia and Serbia, to re-enter the EU in Hungary.

Local media reported that 4 000 migrants were picked up from 100 boats off the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday alone.

Faster processing of migrants' asylum applications is a demand of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also called on Sunday for those immigrants whose claims are accepted to be better and more quickly integrated into European society.

800 000 refugees

Germany is expected to receive a record 800 000 asylum seekers this year, and Merkel said at an open house at the chancellor's office that a prime concern for Germany is building a sufficient number of refugee homes.

Also at the heart of the matter is weeding out those without appropriate asylum claims, including many people from the western Balkans, she said.

"So we can help those in need, we also have to say to those not in need that they cannot stay here," she said.

The brutal nature of the journey taken by so many migrants has hit home after last week's grisly discovery of 71 dead migrants packed into a refrigerator truck abandoned on an Austrian highway after the passengers apparently suffocated to death.

Hungarian authorities on Sunday announced the arrest of a fifth suspect, a Bulgarian, in the case, a day after four other people were ordered to be held by a court in connection with the case.

Italy is also under direct pressure from the surge, as many migrants arrive on its southern shores in boats departing from Libya. This year, around 110 000 people have taken that route.

Italian Prime Minister called Sunday for an overhaul of the so-called Dublin agreement under which asylum seekers must register their claim in the first EU country where they set foot.

Italy has long been calling for a fairer distribution of refugees, but has been accused by other countries of being lax in registering and fingerprinting arrivals, making it easier for people to continue their journeys and seek asylum elsewhere in the bloc.


Read more on:    eu  |  germany  |  syria  |  greece

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