Wednesday 22 May 2019

Europe in 'race against time' to stem refugees and stop chaos

European Council president Donald Tusk
European Council president Donald Tusk

Alastair Macdonald in Valletta

EUROPE is facing a "race against time" to stem the arrival of refugees or it risks the passport-free area being throttled by new national barriers.

EU leaders agreed yesterday to invite Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan to an urgent summit as they seek his help to stem a chaotic flow of migrants that threatens Europe's unity and open borders.

European Council president Donald Tusk, who chaired the emergency meeting of EU leaders in Malta, warned that they must win the "race against time" to slow arrivals via Greece.

The two-day summit was meant to focus on how to send back those who do not qualify for asylum to Africa and discourage others from attempting the risky journey across the seas in search of a better life.

But the gathering of EU and African leaders quickly became overshadowed by fears that one of Europe's prized benefits - the ease of travel through its Schengen passport-free area - was unravelling.

"Saving Schengen is a race against time," Mr Tusk said.

He cited individual moves by Germany, Sweden, Slovenia and other EU nations over threats to their border security from the tens of thousands of asylum-seekers who have been streaming in from Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Mr Tusk added: "Without effective control of our external borders, Schengen will not survive. We must hurry, but without panic."

The Schengen travel zone involves 30 nations, including some that are not in the European Union.

Mr Tusk's remarks came at the end of the Malta summit, where leaders signed up to an action plan of short and longer term measures to halt the flow of Africans coming to Europe.

They also signed on to an emergency package of migration aid worth €1.8bn that select African nations will be able to use.

European leaders gathered after the summit for informal talks about how to cope with the EU's biggest refugee emergency in decades.

Up to three million more people could arrive in Europe seeking sanctuary or jobs by 2017.

Sweden, with the highest number of migrants per capita in Europe, reintroduced border controls yesterday for a period up to 10 days, a move defended by its leader.

Prime minister Stefan Lofven said: "When our authorities tell us we cannot guarantee the security and control of our borders, we need to listen."

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, who ordered an anti-migrant fence to be built on his nation's borders with Serbia and Croatia, has called migration a "lose-lose" phenomenon.

"The solution is to have people have a decent life in the country where they were born. It's impossible to do without money," he said.

Irish Independent

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