EU seeks progress on Syria intake figures, new border and coast guard

EU interior ministers are expected Thursday to press ahead with measures to tackle the bloc's migration challenges, with concrete figures on the table for the intake of Syrians from Turkey, as well as plans for a European border and coast guard.

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 ultimately reaching wealthy northern European states.

At the core of the European Union'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 will take in one Syrian refugee living in Turkey.

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.

For this purpose, 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 programme.

EU interior ministers are expected Thursday to discuss the numbers at a meeting in Luxembourg, although it was unclear whether the breakdown will be made public.

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).

The EU has agreed to take in up to 72,000 Syrians from Turkey overall under the scheme.

The distribution plan still faces resistance from Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, according to diplomatic sources. 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 coast guard that would be able to intervene in member states if they are "unable or unwilling" to protect their frontiers.

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said he expected the ministers to agree Thursday on the initiative. The proposal would then need to be negotiated with the European Parliament.

German Interior Minister Thomas De Maziere expressed hope that the process could be completed by the end of June, adding that such 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.

The new border and coast guard "should be active quickly to check on new routes, or routes that are being used more heavily than before, for instance from northern Africa to Italy," said Dutch Migration Minister Klaas Dijkhoff, whose country holds the EU's presidency.

But NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also warned against taking the focus off the Aegean Sea route just yet, even though migrant crossings have dropped since the EU-Turkey deal.

NATO vessels are in the Aegean to help crack down on the migrant smugglers. Stoltenberg will visit one ship on Thursday.

"It's important not to end this activity too early," Stoltenberg said in Turkey on Thursday morning. "We need to remain flexible because the people smugglers can shift their routes very rapidly."

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