EU holds fresh talks amid 'humanitarian crisis'

Divided European Union ministers to gather in Brussels for fresh talks on refugee crisis amid risk of collapse of Schengen Area

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Stranded Afghan refugees make their way towards the Greek-Macedonian border near the Greek village of Idomeni, February 24, 2016.

European Union ministers will discuss the refugee crisis affecting their continent in a fresh round of talks in Brussels on Thursday. Non-EU countries, Serbia, Macedonia and Turkey will also attend the meeting, which was organised in an attempt to find a permanent solution to the crisis.

Ahead of the meeting, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had urged a fair distribution of the burden of the refugee crisis among the European countries, threatening not to cooperate with future EU agreements on the crisis if this did not happen.

"Greece will no longer agree to any deal if the burdens and responsibilities are not shared proportionally," and he stated he would not let Greece become a "warehouse of souls."

Austria, announcing that it will not take more than 80 asylum applications in a day, took further steps on Wednesday to coordinate border restrictions spanning the Balkans. During a meeting of Balkan states that Greece was excluded from Austria warned that the EU’s future was at stake.

Greek Prime Minister Tsiplas reacted to the meeting by saying that the refugee crisis is a global issue and therefore unilateral actions are unacceptable.

On the same day Budapest announced a referendum on the EU's plan to introduce mandatory quotas on refugees.

Migration minister for the Netherlands Klaas Dijkhoff, which currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency, defended Budapest’s move by saying that everyone had the right to organise referanda.

European countries remain deeply divided over how to handle the refugee crisis as some members imposed border closures in a move threatening the 28-nation bloc’s passport-free Schengen Area.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is known for her welcoming stance towards the refugees, was criticised by Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban and Australian Foreingn Minister Sebastian Kurz ahead of the meeting.

Orban said Brussels’ plan - supported by Germany - “to take in hundreds of refugges from Turkey and distribute them across Europe” was “an illusion” and added that European countries “can’t keep” or “don’t want to keep” those promises. Orban has been frequently criticised over his anti-refugee rhetoric and policies.

EU contries have agreed on a 3 billion euro fund to Turkey as part of a package of measures aimed at reducing the numbers of refugees heading to Europe while impoving their living conditions.

The European Union's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said EU countries “have to better support Turkey on the incredible work it’s doing to host protect an enormous number of refugees.”

Turkey, a candidate for membership of the EU, hosts more than 2.2 million refugees from the Syrian civil war.

Tensions rise

The crisis intensified at the weekend after the Macedonian border was closed by officials and passage from Greece was blocked to Afghan refugees.

Thousands of refugees were left stranded for days at the border and forced to camp in cold weather as Balkan countries agreed to restrict access.

Greece has been threatened with effective suspension from the Schengen Area if it does not do more to stop refugees accessing other countries and improve reception and registration conditions for refugees who land on its soil.

A summit on the deal agreed between Turkey and the EU is set to held on March 7.


TRTWorld and agencies