European Union interior ministers are meeting in Brussels amid further warnings that the continued migration and refugee crisis is a serious threat to the bloc’s future, Sky News reports. With temporary border controls now in place at a number of borders within the Schengen open border zone, a central pillar of the EU project – free movement – is already threatened.
This week the Belgian authorities introduced checks on the western border with France amid concerns that migrants evicted from the “Jungle” camp in Calais may try to cross to ports in neighbouring Belgium. A decision by a French judge later today will determine whether half of the camp can be demolished.
Overnight, an estimated 1,000 migrants tried to enter the Channel Tunnel secure zone in the latest mass-attempt to gain access to trains to the UK. The ministers are meeting as the crisis spirals on several fronts. In southern Europe, a growing backlog of refugees is building up on several borders; the consequence of unilateral decisions to restrict migrant flows by several countries.
Earlier this week, Macedonia introduced measures on its southern border with Greece to prevent Afghan nationals from crossing. Only people from Syria and Iraq are currently allowed to cross. The move has caused tension and scuffles on the Greek side of the border. It follows earlier decisions by Austria and Slovenia to put a cap on the numbers of migrants it is willing to allow in.
On 17 February, the Austrian government announced a daily limit of 3,200 people entering its territory and said it would only accept 80 new asylum seekers a day. Slovenia followed suit with its own quotas. In a statement, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the moves are unhelpful and could break the law.
“These newest restrictive measures risk violating EU law and undermine efforts for a comprehensive and coordinated approach to deal with the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe,” UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said. Greece is a ‘frontier’ nation into which most arrive by sea from Turkey. The Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, increasingly concerned about the build-up of refugees, said his country was turning into a “permanent warehouse of souls”.
“From now on, Greece will not agree to deals if we do not secure the mandatory sharing of the burden and responsibility proportionally among member states,” Mr Tsipras said. A compressive quota system to relocate 120,000 migrants from Greece and Italy and distribute them evenly within the EU was announced in September.
However, only a few hundred migrants have been resettled under the scheme. Some eastern European nations have refused to take part. The UK says it is taking refuges from camps in the Middle East instead. Mr Tsipras threatened to block any decisions to be made at a leaders’ summit next month unless the EU accepts the quota system.
But on Wednesday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced plans on a referendum on whether to accept the EU’s mandatory quota system. Mr Orban, confident of a win for his opposition to the system, said the quotas “could redraw Europe’s cultural and religious identity”. The interior ministers will again discuss the failure of the quota system as well as plans by Austria and Balkan states to fingerprint all entrants, something that the EU said it would do months ago.
More than 100,000 refugees and migrants have arrived across the Mediterranean Sea in the first six weeks of this year alone, according to figures from the International Organisation for Migration. That represents the same number who arrived in the first six months of 2015.