EU leaders urged to move faster on refugee crisis

BRUSSELS • European Union interior ministers faced renewed pressure to deliver on their promises for tackling the migration crisis yesterday as they met to prepare the ground for a crucial summit with African leaders.

Mr Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU Migration Commissioner, urged them to act quickly on pledges to tighten external borders, relocate refugees from overstretched Italy and Greece, and set up reception centres along the main Balkans route from Greece.

The extraordinary meeting yesterday came ahead of a special EU-Africa summit in Malta tomorrow, focused on how to reduce the flow via Libya, the second-busiest migrant route after Turkey and the Balkans.

"It is now time for them (the member states) to accelerate the work to make these promises a reality on the ground," the commissioner, a Greek national, said in a statement.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation EU, proposed a multi-pronged plan in May to tackle the worst migrant crisis in Europe since World War II after nearly 800 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean on their way to Italy via Libya.

The problem worsened over the summer when hundreds of thousands more people fleeing wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan arrived in Greece and the Balkans via Turkey.

More than 3,000 people have drowned among the nearly 800,000 who have reached Europe this year.

However, EU states have bickered for months over a joint solution, particularly over plans to relocate a total of 160,000 asylum seekers from frontline countries to other parts of the bloc.

"We need to see more relocations from Greece and Italy as a matter of urgency," said Mr Avramopoulos.

The EU finally approved the relocation schemes last month in the face of fierce opposition from Hungary and other eastern member states who are grappling with an anti-immigrant backlash.

But since then, only around 120 asylum seekers have been relocated from Italy and Greece to countries like Sweden and Luxembourg.

States like Hungary are putting pressure on Greece to reinforce its sea borders, the first EU port of call on the dangerous Aegean Sea crossing from Turkey.

Mr Avramopoulos said member states also need to contribute the staff and equipment needed to set up the agreed reception centres in Greece and Italy, where people seeking refugee status will be separated from economic migrants who will be sent back home.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2015, with the headline 'EU leaders urged to move faster on refugee crisis'. Print Edition | Subscribe