European Council President Urges Accord On Migrant Crisis
September 23, 2015
European Council President Donald Tusk has urged leaders of the EU's 28 member states to unite in order to resolve the migrant crisis engulfing the bloc ahead of an emergency meeting on the issue.
In a letter addressed to all EU presidents and prime ministers, Tusk wrote that there is 'a long list of issues where we could blame one another, but it will not help us in finding a common solution.'
Tusk's comments come ahead of an emergency meeting of EU leaders in Brussels late on September 23 to give final approval to a plan to move 120,000 migrants now in Greece and Italy to other EU states in an effort to distribute the burden of the crisis more evenly.
Leaders at the summit are also expected to consider ways to improve security on the EU's external borders and ensure that migrants whose requests for asylum are rejected are sent back to their home countries expeditiously.
The EU leaders are also due to discuss ways to reduce the flow of Syrian refugees to Europe by increasing aid to Turkey, which currently houses more than half of the 4 million Syrians who have fled the their country, and increasing aid to UN agencies supporting Syrian refugees in camps in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.
The summit in Brussels comes a day after EU interior ministers voted by a majority to approve resettling some 120,000 refugees currently in Greece and Italy across 23 other member states. The two-year plan calls for resettling 15,600 people from Italy and 50,400 from Greece in the first year, with a further 54,000 from those countries, or possibly from Hungary, to be resettled later.
The resettlement plan, which gives priority to refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Eritrea, has caused deep divisions in the EU as four central European states voted against it in the interior ministers' meeting September 22.
Czech President Milos Zeman said September 22 that 'only the future will show what a mistake this was.'
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said he would not implement the quotas as long as he was in office.
Hungary and Romania also voted against the redistribution scheme.
However, the chairman of the September 22 meeting, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, said he expected that even those states which opposed the measure would comply. Any EU governments that refuse to cooperate with the majority-approved plan could face financial penalties for failing to implement EU laws.
Now, as the EU prime ministers meet to approve the redistribution plan, some leaders are likely to argue vigorously for their own visions of how the union should face the migrant crisis.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is expected to propose that each of the 28 EU members pay 1 percent of its income from the Union, plus 1 percent of its contributions to it, into a special fund to improve conditions in the refugee camps in countries neighboring Syria. He is also likely to argue for tightening the EU's external borders, citing Hungary's construction of a fence along its border with Serbia as an example.
The United Kingdom, which has exercised its right to not participate in the redistribution plan, has developed its own alternative plan to resettle 20,000 Syrians over the next five years directly from camps in the Middle East.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told media in Brussels on September 23 that Brussels sees an end to the civil war in Syria as a key to solving the refugee crisis and that the bloc is 'putting all its political weight to try and facilitate a solution to the conflict.'
She said she was hopeful the 'credibility and the work we have done in reaching the Iranian deal' could offer some new possibilities for key players in the region to cooperate, referring to an agreement under which Tehran is to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. She did not elaborate further.
The EU summit is the latest effort by the union to develop a strategy for coping with an influx of migrants that has seen more than 500,000 migrants arrive in Europe by sea this year, many of them escaping violence and conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Migrants are estimated to now be reaching European shores at a rate of nearly 6,000 a day.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and BBC
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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