EU calls for global response to migration crisis at G20

Migrants and refugees cross the Greek-Macedonian border.
Migrants and refugees cross the Greek-Macedonian border.PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - The European Union (EU) wants world leaders this month to help tackle the migration crisis that has seen more than half a million refugees enter the EU since the start of the year, threatening to dismantle Europe's open internal borders agreement.

Leaders of the world's 20 biggest economies (G20) are to meet in the Turkish sea resort of Antalya on Nov 15-16 to discuss economic and tax cooperation, trade and climate change.

But top officials that will represent Europe at the meeting - the chairman of EU leaders Donald Tusk and the head of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, - will also push for a global response to the migration challenge faced by Europe.

"Meeting in Turkey in the midst of a refugee crisis due to conflicts in Syria and elsewhere, the G20 must rise to the challenge and lead a coordinated and innovative response to the crisis that recognises its global nature and economic consequences and promotes greater international solidarity in protecting refugees," Tusk and Juncker wrote in a letter.

"The G20 has a specific responsibility to ensure that international organisations assisting refugees have the necessary financial means," they said in the letter to other EU leaders, spelling out the agenda that will be pursued by Europe.

Money could help, because of 2.3 billion euros (S$3.5 billion) promised by EU governments collectively to help Syrian refugees and aid Africans to reduce incentives to go to Europe, only 486 million so far was covered by firm national pledges.

The migrants, mainly from war-torn Syria and Iraq and poor sub-Saharan Africa, enter the European Union mainly through Greece and Italy after crossing the Mediterranean in boats from Turkey and North Africa. Thousands have drowned on the way.

But once in Greece or Italy, they can travel across 26 European countries, called the Schengen area, with no restrictions because the Schengen agreement countries have no internal borders or passport controls.

Several EU countries, including Germany and Austria, have now reintroduced some border controls to manage the migration flows. "The only way not to dismantle Schengen is to ensure proper management of EU external borders," Tusk wrote in a letter to EU leaders this week. "We must do all we can to keep Schengen intact and so any initiative that may lead to the re-establishment of borders within Schengen should be withheld," he said.

Turkey, which holds the rotating presidency of the Group of 20 biggest economies until the end of this month, has already taken in 2 million refugees from Syria and Iraq.

The EU wants Ankara to keep them from going to the EU and take back those rejected by Europe. As an incentive it has offered Turkey the prospect of faster progress on its bid to join the EU and on visa-free travel to the EU.

EU leaders are to hold talks with African leaders on controlling migration on Nov 9 in the Maltese capital Valletta and at an informal meeting of EU heads of state on Nov 12 in Brussels, just days ahead of the Antalya G20 summit.