Europe has failed to agree how to share the burden of refugees daily entering the EU, as five countries either shut their borders or introduced border controls, leaving thousands of migrants in limbo and increasing pressure on other countries.
In a desperate bid to keep deep divisions between member states under control, there was some agreement on how to limit migrants, arrest traffickers, and send home those not entitled to asylum.
There was an agreement also to select 40,000 Syrians, Eritreans, and Iraqis from Italy and Greece who qualify as refugees and begin resettling them in a number of countries, including 600 in Ireland that Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said should begin to arrive before the end of the year.
However, after eight hours of intensive talks, Ms Fitzgerald admitted she was disappointed with the failure to reach agreement. However, it was decided not to try to push through a decision based on a majority vote.
Jean Asselbloem, the Luxembourg minister chairing the extraordinary meeting of justice ministers, warned: “We have got to get ourselves together, or else Europe will fall apart.”
Some countries needed time to think it through, he said. “I believe that a small nation like Luxembourg can take in people who are not Christian and have a different skin colour and that could also work in Poland and Czech and Slovakia and we need a change of thinking,” Mr Asselbloem added.
Ms Fitzgerald acknowledged “this is a huge challenge for Europe” and said nobody should underestimate how complex the issue was.
Ireland will take up to 4,000 refugees irrespective of whether the EU agrees the cost would be added to the government deficit under EU rules or not.
“Ireland is committed to take the actions I outlined,” said Ms Fitzgerald, adding the EU was contributing half the estimated €48m cost.
Talks to try to reach agreement for their next meeting in three weeks’ time will focus on taking in 120,000 refugees, of which Ireland has said it will take 2,900.
Refugees rest in a makeshift camp in a parking garage in the main rail station in Salzburg Austria. Pic: PA.
Hungary today shuts its border with Serbia, blocking one of the main routes used by Syrians trying to reaching Germany and Austria. More than 5,300 managed to cross yesterday and early today.
Austria, Slovakia, and the Netherlands introduced police checks at their borders, while Germany shut its borders, refusing entry to those without passport and visas for the first time in the 25 years since the Schengen border-free zone was introduced.
Today, Hungary will introduce laws to criminalise and jail anybody crossing its borders even to claim asylum, contrary to international law.
Also on the table was a set of proposals to extend the role of Frontex, the EU border agency that currently helps national agencies, by having them organise rapid intervention teams to patrol sensitive external borders.
Ministers wants to help countries outside the EU, including Turkey, to keep refugees and agreed extra funds to help. The Balkan countries have been added to a list of safe countries to send back refugees, but Turkey has been excluded because of its attacks on its Kurdish population.
They also agreed to military action to catch people traffickers. They will ask countries to volunteer ships, helicopters, and other assets to carry out this function in October, but only in international waters. They hope to extend this into Libyan waters but this needs a UN Security Council resolution.
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