EU makes slow progress on Syrian refugee pledges for migration deal

EU member states made limited progress Thursday in providing places for Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey

The 28-member bloc has been working to halt a migration surge that saw more than 1 million people arrive last year. Most of them crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the Greek islands, in the hope of reaching wealthy northern European states such as Germany and Sweden.

At the core of the EU's approach is a controversial deal with Turkey under which new arrivals to Greece will be sent back. For each Syrian returned in this way, the bloc has agreed to take in one Syrian refugee living in Turkey, up to a total of 72,000.

The aim is to replace dangerous, uncontrolled and illegal entries into the EU with a managed scheme granting protection to Syrians fleeing the conflict in their nation.

But member states have been slow in coming forward with concrete pledges, said Dutch Migration Minister Klaas Dijkhoff, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

"We all have to resettle Syrian refugees from Turkey," Dijkhoff said. "Many member states have shown willingness to do so, but we are not there yet," he added, following a meeting Thursday of EU interior ministers in Luxembourg.

A draft country-by-country breakdown has been prepared, detailing the distribution of an overall 4,488 Syrians from Turkey during the first four months of the arrangement met with Turkey.

According to the document, seen by dpa, the highest number of Syrians - 218 a month - would go to non-EU member Norway, which is also taking part in the scheme. Next in line are France (148), Italy (118) and Germany (100), although member states can take in more.

But the draft document was not actively discussed or endorsed Thursday, according to Luxembourg Foreign and Immigration Minister Jean Asselborn and others party to the talks.

"We have to make far greater efforts than the numbers circulated [in the document]," Asselborn added.

The country-by-country contingents do not need to be approved, as they are based on refugee intake figures agreed by member states last year.

However, the distribution plan has faced resistance from Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, diplomatic sources said ahead of Thursday's meeting. The three countries would take in up to 84 Syrians monthly under the draft.

Besides the deal with Turkey, the European Commission has also put forward plans for an EU border and coastguard that would be able to intervene in member states if they are "unable or unwilling" to protect their frontiers.

The ministers agreed Thursday to start negotiations with the European Parliament as soon as possible, while also preparing to implement the initiative, Dijkhoff said.

"The European border guard should take off as soon as possible, and it's our preference that it will be already this summer," he added.

Ahead of the talks, German Interior Minister Thomas De Maziere expressed hope that the process could be completed by the end of June, adding that swift action was "necessary and appropriate."

Border controls have usually been a jealously guarded national competence in the 28-country EU, but the migration crisis has put pressure on Europe's internal border-free Schengen system, prompting calls for a strengthening of the bloc's external borders.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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