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Friday 21 October 2016

EU ministers seek to strengthen borders against migrant flow

Published 06/02/2016 | 11:51

Refugees in a rubber dinghy arrive on the beach at Psalidi near Kos Town, Kos, Greece
Refugees in a rubber dinghy arrive on the beach at Psalidi near Kos Town, Kos, Greece

European Union foreign ministers anxious to stem the flow of migrants coming through the Balkans are meeting counterparts from the region to find better ways to protect borders.

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With Greece unable to control the thousands of migrants making the crossing from Turkey, some EU nations are now looking to help non-member Macedonia stop them at its southern border before they get to the European Schengen zone of border-free travel.

Hungarian foreign affairs minister Peter Szijjarto said: "If Greece is not ready or able to protect the Schengen zone and doesn't accept any assistance from the EU, then we need another defence line, which is obviously Macedonia and Bulgaria."

An estimated 850,000 migrants arrived in Greece in 2015, overwhelming the coast guard and reception facilities. Aid groups say cash-strapped Greece has shelter for only about 10,000 people.

Most travel on via land across the Balkans and into the EU's heartland of Germany and beyond.

Mr Szijjarto said that the EU nations are "defenceless from the south", adding: "There are thousands of irregular migrants entering the territory of the EU on a daily basis."

Because of this, several member states have re-imposed border crossings to manage the flow into their nations better, but EU officials are doing their utmost to keep the Schengen zone as open as possible and want member states to focus on reinforcing the external borders only.

Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz said during the two-day meeting in Amsterdam that if the flow of migrants is not stopped at external borders like in Greece, "we will find other ways".

Austria has suggested sending its military to help Balkan countries such as Macedonia or Serbia secure their borders so that effectively, the migrant flow through the Balkans would be slowed with people kept in Greece.

The EU is also looking at Turkey to make a better effort to make sure refugees from the Syrian war do not make the dangerous crossing.

EU nations have committed three billion euro (£2.3 billion) towards dealing with refugees in Turkey as part of a package of incentives aimed at persuading Ankara to do more to stop thousands of migrants leaving for Greece.

Press Association

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