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EU Looking to Stem Refugee Flow        02/06 11:59

   AMSTERDAM (AP) -- European Union nations anxious to stem the flow of 
asylum-seekers coming through the Balkans are increasingly considering sending 
more help to non-member Macedonia as a better way to protect European borders 
instead of relying on EU member Greece.

   With Athens unable to halt the tens of thousands of people making the sea 
crossing from Turkey, EU nations fear that Europe's Schengen border-free travel 
zone could collapse, taking with it one of the cornerstones on which the 
28-nation bloc is built.

   "If Greece is not ready or able to protect the Schengen zone and doesn't 
accept any assistance from the EU, then we need another defense line, which is 
obviously Macedonia and Bulgaria," Hungarian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter 
Szijjarto said at Saturday's meeting of EU foreign ministers in Amsterdam.

   An estimated 850,000 migrants arrived in Greece in 2015, overwhelming its 
coast guard and reception facilities. Aid groups say cash-strapped Greece has 
shelter for only about 10,000 people, just over 1 percent of those who have 
entered. Most of the asylum-seekers then travel on across the Balkans and into 
the EU's heartland of Germany and beyond.

   Szijjarto said EU nations are "defenseless from the south. There are 
thousands of irregular migrants entering the territory of the EU on a daily 
basis."

   Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said the cash-strapped government 
in Athens still underestimates the crisis.

   "I still don't have the feeling that it has dawned on Greece how serious the 
situation is" for receiving nations like Austria, he said.

   The situation has pushed some EU nations to send bilateral aid to Macedonia, 
a non-EU nation, to control its border with EU member Greece. There has been 
even talk of sending military troops to Macedonia to beef up the Greek border.

   Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki said after the meeting it did not 
matter what the aid was technically called.

   "The essential thing is that we have people and equipment to control the 
border and do registration where legal crossing should happen," he said.

   He said Macedonia has already put its own military on the job.

   "They're making sure that we have decreased the illegal crossings through 
our border and we're going to continue to make these efforts," he said.

   Because of the relentless influx of people, several EU members have 
re-imposed border crossings to manage the flow into their nations better. EU 
officials, however, are doing their utmost to keep the Schengen zone as open as 
possible and want member states to focus on reinforcing the zone's external 
borders only.

   And the EU is also looking at Turkey to make a better effort to make sure 
that refugees from the Syrian war do not make the dangerous sea crossing. EU 
nations have committed 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) to Turkey for helping 
refugees as part of incentives aimed at persuading it to do more to stop 
thousands of migrants from leaving for Greece.

   The EU also called on Turkey to open its borders to thousands of Syrians 
fleeing fierce government offensives and intense Russian airstrikes and said it 
is providing aid to Ankara for that purpose.

   "Unquestionably, the fact that people coming from inside Syria are Syrians 
in need for international protection," EU foreign policy chief Federica 
Mogherini said Saturday. "On top of that: the support that the EU is providing 
to Turkey, among others, is aimed exactly at guaranteeing" that Ankara can 
protect and host Syrians needing asylum.

   EU foreign ministers met with their Turkish counterpart for informal talks 
in Amsterdam on Saturday and Mogherini said "this was the message we delivered."


(KA)


 
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