World Bulletin / News Desk
European Union interior ministers faced renewed pressure to deliver on their promises for tackling the migration crisis on Monday as they met to prepare the ground for a crucial summit with African leaders.
Dimitris Avramopolous, the EU migration commissioner, urged them to act quickly on pledges to tighten external borders, relocate refugees from overstretched Italy and Greece, and set up reception centres along the main Balkans route from Greece.
Monday's extraordinary meeting came ahead of a special EU-Africa summit in Malta on Wednesday, focused on how to reduce the flow via Libya, the second-busiest refugee route after Turkey and the Balkans.
"It is now time for them (the member states) to accelerate the work to make these promises a reality on the ground," the commissioner, a Greek national, said in a statement.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation EU, proposed a multi-pronged plan in May to tackle the worst refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War after nearly 800 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean on their way to Italy via Libya.
The problem worsened over the summer when hundreds of thousands more people fleeing wars inSyria, Iraq and Afghanistan arrived in Greece and the Balkans via Turkey.
More than 3,000 people have drowned among the nearly 800,000 who have reached Europe this year.
However, EU states have bickered for months over a joint solution, particularly over plans to relocate a total of 160,000 asylum seekers from frontline countries to other parts of the bloc.
"We need to see more relocations from Greece andItaly as a matter of urgency," said Avramopoulos.
The EU finally approved the relocation schemes last month in the face of fierce opposition from Hungaryand other eastern member states who are grappling with an anti-imrefugee backlash.
But since then only around 120 asylum seekers have been relocated from Italy and Greece to countries likeSweden and Luxembourg.
'Time for delivery'
States like Hungary are putting pressure on Greece to reinforce its sea borders, the first EU port of call on the dangerous Aegean Sea crossing from Turkey.
Avramopolous said member states also need to contribute the staff and equipment needed to set up the agreed reception centres in Greece and Italywhere people seeking refugee status will be separated from economic refugees who will be sent back home.
There are also plans to set up reception centres in the Balkan countries where refugees can register and obtain shelter.
"We need to increase reception capacities," Avramopoulos added.
He also called for speeding up the return of economic refugees to their home countries. "Now is the time for delivery on all fronts," he said.
The gathering of more than 50 leaders from both theEU and Africa in Malta on Wednesday and Thursday will see an overwhelmed Europe call on Africa to take back more people classed as economic refugees and not refugees fleeing conflict and persecution.
In return, Europe will offer up to 3.6 billion euros ($3.8 billion) in development funds in a fresh thrust by the wealthy EU to tackle the wars and poverty in Africa that are among the root causes of the migration flow.
In Vienna meanwhile, ministers and senior officials from 11 European countries including Germany andSweden met Monday to discuss how to better integrate the record numbers of refugees.
Sebastian Kurz, integration and foreign minister of hosts Austria, said the integration of refugees into mainstream society was essential to maintain "social harmony" in European countries where people are "unsettled" by the influx.
In Cyprus, British officials said Monday that 114 refugees from the Middle East staying at a military base on the east Mediterranean island will be deported if they do not claim asylum with the Cypriot authorities.Last Mod: 09 Kasım 2015, 15:48