Sunday 19 November 2017

Poland lines up with allies to veto plans for migrant quotas

A migrant girl tries to warm herself as she disembarks a boat on the Greek island of Lesbos. Photo: AP
A migrant girl tries to warm herself as she disembarks a boat on the Greek island of Lesbos. Photo: AP
Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak. Photo: Getty

Hilda Renard

Poland has vowed to veto any plan by the European Union that would oblige member states to accept set numbers of migrants, the nation's interior minister said yesterday.

Last year, Poland and other countries in the region opposed a plan to redistribute over 120,000 migrants from Africa and the Middle East among the EU members. Warsaw agreed to accept no more than 7,000 asylum-seekers, but not economic migrants, by the end of 2017.

Mariusz Blaszczak said that Poland would veto any new relocation plan that would impose a quota of migrants to be accepted, saying such a plan would encourage more arrivals.

Poland says that the migrants should be helped outside Europe, at refugee camps close to their home countries.

Some 53pc of Poles are against accepting any migrants, while 41pc are for offering them temporary shelter only, according to a poll released yesterday by the CBOS survey centre.

Only 4pc of respondents said Poland should allow migrants to settle permanently. The poll conducted earlier this month on 1,063 adults has margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Mr Blaszczak also said that Poland would "most probably" introduce temporary border controls in July when it will host a Nato summit and world youth's meeting with Pope Francis.

Speaking in Prague yesterday, the Czech and Slovak prime ministers called on the EU to be ready with alternative plans to reinforce its borders.

Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka has called a meeting of the Visegrad group of central European countries for February 15, three days before an EU summit that will tackle the migration crisis.

The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland have together taken a tough stance on migration and been at odds with western EU neighbours in dealing with an influx of migrants that topped one million last year.

The 28-nation EU on Monday inched closer to accepting that its Schengen zone of passport-free travel may be suspended if it cannot curb the number of asylum seekers, mainly from the Middle East and Africa.

More than 40,000 people have arrived in EU-member Greece by sea from Turkey in 2016 despite a deal with Ankara two months ago to hold back an exodus of Syrian refugees. Mr Sobotka said it was even a question whether Greece had "given up" on its duties.

"Greece has not been able to provide (border) protection," he said in a televised news conference with Slovak counterpart Robert Fico in Bratislava.

"We have to put pressure on Turkey to fulfil its agreements with the EU. We have to insist that Greece, as far as it is in Schengen, meets its requirements."

Mr Sobotka and Mr Fico said it was time to start agreeing a back-up border control system to have ready in case migration could not be controlled in Turkey or Greece.

"There must be a back-up plan, regardless of whether Greece stays in Schengen. We must find an effective border protection," Fico said.

Most migrants head to richer EU countries such as Germany, so the number entering central European states has been low.

However, countries in the region have protested against an EU quota system intended to redistribute asylum seekers among member states. They have also stressed the need for stricter EU border protection and speeding up the creation of a joint border patrol. The EU is expected to agree details of the new guard only in June.

Yesterday the Turkish coastguard recovered the bodies of four migrants - three of them children - after a smuggler's boat sailing from Syria sank on the way to Greece, the state-run news agency said.

The bodies were found near the tiny Greek island of Farmakonissi, near the Turkish resort of Didim, according to the Anadolu agency.

The coastguard is searching the Aegean Sea for more possible victims.

Officials say 57 migrants have died in Turkish waters so far this year while attempting to reach the Greek islands.

More than 700 people have died or gone missing in the Aegean Sea since the start of 2015.

Irish Independent

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