Sunday 18 February 2018

Ending Syrian war is only way to solve migrant crisis - Dutch minister

Civilians stand on rubble at a site hit by what activists said was an explosive container dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the northern town of Saraqib, near Idlib. Photo: Reuters
Civilians stand on rubble at a site hit by what activists said was an explosive container dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the northern town of Saraqib, near Idlib. Photo: Reuters

Hannah Estovia in Brussels

THE Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders insisted yesterday that the only way to halt the flow of migrants pouring into Europe is to end the war in Syria.

Mr Koenders, who visited a refugee camp in Lebanon, said: "It is not only a question of border controls and quotas. If the war in Syria does not end, people will keep coming."

He said the European Union, whose leaders meet in Brussels tomorrow to try to hammer out a united front in tackling the migrant crisis, should talk to the Lebanese authorities, "because that country knows not only the problems but also the region."

He also claimed that the EU should discuss possible solutions to the Syrian conflict with Lebanon and other countries from the Middle East.

The Dutch government has pledged €25m to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that Europe can only get a long-term grip on the refugee crisis by tackling what is causing people to flee other nations - not by building fences.

Ms Merkel (inset) said the EU needs to send "signals of order" in the crisis, for example by working with Turkey to secure its external border, but that it's also necessary to address broader issues such as the aid shortfall that is prompting Syrians to leave surrounding countries.

Ms Merkel said after meeting her Finnish counterpart: "We are learning in this refugee situation that we are all connected to each other and our lives are affected if terrible things happen elsewhere."

She added: "We will not be able to change that by building fences ... only by fighting the causes."

Earlier, a plan to share out refugees across the European Union was rejected outright by the Czech Republic yesterday and criticised by a United Nations agency for not going far enough to stabilise the situation.

Hours before a meeting of EU interior ministers to discuss the proposal, Bohuslav Sobotka, the Czech prime minister, said his country would reject any quota system for redistributing 120,000 refugees across the 28-nation bloc.

Nearly half a million people fleeing war and poverty, two-fifths of them from Syria, have crossed the Mediterranean this year to reach Europe, overwhelming the EU's southern states and plunging them into furious rows over border controls.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said the 120,000 people the bloc is seeking to share out were equivalent to just six days' worth of arrivals at the current rate.

"A relocation programme alone, at this stage in the crisis, will not be enough to stabilise the situation," Melissa Fleming, UNHCR spokesman, said, calling on the EU to set up reception facilities for tens of thousands of refugees.

The EU's executive Commission backs the quota scheme, but opponents call it a distraction, irrelevant to the problem of targeting aid to the neediest and reducing the numbers risking dangerous sea crossings.

After a failed interior ministers meeting last week, it is clear that the dissenters, notably Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, can be out-voted. But diplomats said they were working to find consensus to avoid such an outcome, arguing that on such a sensitive issue it could further poison relations in the bloc.

EU officials hope the emergency summit scheduled for today will deliver concrete pledges of financial and other support for Turkey, Jordan and other nations housing some four million Syrian refugees, as well as for the 11 million Syrians now homeless in their own country.

"We feel that after the past few weeks people are much more ready to support refugees while they are still outside Europe, so we want to jump on that," one senior EU official said.

The Commission said last week it was ready to come up with about €1bn for Turkey, more than five times what the EU has already deployed for the two million refugees there.

Meanwhile, Croatia's prime minister, Zoran Milanovic, has urged Serbia to "send refugees in other directions too," as police reported that 34,900 migrants have entered the country in less than a week.

Overwhelmed by the influx, Croatia has been transporting migrants to its borders with Slovenia or Hungary - more than 6,000 migrants left that way on Monday and yesterday.

Irish Independent

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