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
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
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."