EU calls emergency meeting to tackle unusual refugee crisis

Luxembourg, which holds European presidency has called emergency talks on tackling the bloc's escalating refugee crisis

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Europe is dealing with the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

The European Union has called emergency meeting to tackle the escalating refugee crisis after nearly 107,500 refugees crossed the border into the EU last month.

Interior ministers from each of the union’s 28 member states will hold an extraordinary meeting in Brussels on September 14, as the crisis situation escalates in unprecedented proportions, the European Union's rotating presidency announced on Sunday.

"The situation of migration phenomena outside and inside the European Union has recently taken unprecedented proportions," said the Luxembourg government which currently holds the EU's six-month rotating presidency in a statement.

 “In order to assess the situation on the ground, the political actions under way and to discuss the next steps in order to strengthen the European response, the Luxembourg Minister for Immigration and Asylum Jean Asselborn decided to convene an extraordinary JHA (Justice and Home Affairs) council," the statement said.

Luxembourg said the meeting would focus on policies to return refugees home if their asylum claim is rejected, cooperation with third countries, and measures to prevent human trafficking.

A record number of 107,500 asylum-seekers reached the EU's borders in July and nearly 340,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe since January, primarily from the Middle East and Africa, already surpassing the total number for all of 2014.

Europe is dealing with the biggest influx of refugees since World War II. The UN says the continuing conflict in Syria is a major factor behind the rise in numbers. Refugees are risking their lives in perilous journeys to flee war, oppression or poverty to reach prosperous Western states.

At least 2,500 have died in during these journeys, most of them drowning in the waters of the Mediterranean after being crammed into crude boats.

On 27 August, European officials discovered 71 bodies thought to be Syrian refugees in a truck abandoned by the roadside in Austria, while an estimated 200 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean Sea after two boats capsized off the coast of Libya on 28 August.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said on Saturday he was "horrified and heartbroken" by the grim discovery of 71 dead people in an abandoned truck near the Austrian border with Hungary.

"I appeal to all governments involved to provide comprehensive responses, expand safe and legal channels of migration and act with humanity, compassion and in accordance with their international obligations," he said on 28 August.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel  called on other EU states to do more as Germany absorbs around 40% of all asylum seekers coming to the EU, more than any other member state in the 28 member bloc. This year it is expected to receive a record 800.000 asylum seekers.

"If Europe has solidarity and we have also shown solidarity towards others, then we need to show solidarity now," she told reporters in Berlin. "Everything must move quickly."

Some EU states have refused to take in refugees and resisted EU proposals to agree on a common plan. Others are toughening their asylum policies and border security, sometimes because of rising anti-immigration and nationalist sentiment.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius condemned Hungary for building a 175 kilometre razor wire fence along its border with Serbia to deter refugees and accused it of flouting "the common values of Europe" on Sunday.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto slammed his counterpart’s criticism and said, "Instead of shocking and groundless judgements, one should instead concentrate on finding common solutions for Europe."

The interior ministers from Britain, France and Germany have called for refugees to be fingerprinted and registered when they arrive in Italy and Greece

Italy is also under direct pressure from the escalating refugee crisis. In 2015, nearly 110,000 people have arrived southern shores of Italy in boats departing from Libya.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said the rising death toll would push EU states to confront the problem.

"It will take months, but we will have a single European policy on asylum, not as many policies as there are countries," he added.

TRTWorld and agencies