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EU migration commissioner warns refugee crisis 'getting worse'

The EU's migration commissioner has warned the refugee crisis is 'getting worse.' Dimitris Avramopoulos said a collapse of the Schengen visa-free travel system would be 'the beginning of the end of the European project.'

Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told European Union lawmakers in Brussels on Thursday that efforts to manage the refugee emergency were failing as more countries tightened border security.

At a meeting organized by the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee in Brussels, Avramopoulos said up to 4,000 people had arrived daily in Greece over Christmas and the New Year. The new arrivals were fleeing either conflict or poverty.

The commissioner said authorities in Greece had been unable or unwilling to register and lodge the migrants. Hundreds of thousands of people have headed north with hopes of being accepted in countries such as Germany or Sweden.

Refugees at the Schärding border

Migrants at the German border

Avramopoulos said the scheme launched in September to share 160,000 refugees arriving in Greece and Italy among EU member states had only managed to settle 272 people in new homes.

"All member states have to play the game," Avramopoulos said.

German MEP Cornelia Ernst backed the commissioner's call.

"How on earth can we implement anything if member states keep saying no, no, no" she asked.

Italian MEP Laura Ferrara said, "In Italy the hotspots are not working, the identification process is too slow."

Plans to take refugees from outside the EU, such as from Turkey, were only moving slowly, Avramopoulos said.

"These schemes have not delivered the expected results," he said, adding that the system for processing people in Greece and Italy has struggled to get off the ground.

Schengen vital to European project

The commissioner also said Europe's passport-free travel area, the Schengen Zone, was under threat. He said "more and more member states are reintroducing border controls" in response to migrant movements, including Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Austria.

Watch video 01:00

Denmark introduces controls at German border

"If Schengen collapses," Avramopoulos warned, "this will be the beginning of the end of the European project."

The European Commission is working on measures to create a more sustainable migration system, Avramopoulos said. The steps would include financial assistance, a revision of the blue card immigration system and a new plan for resettling asylum seekers. The Commission is to release its proposals in March.

Repatriation

Avramopoulos said a significant number of migrants were hoping to secure jobs - rather than international protection. He warned that they were almost certain to have their residency requests rejected. But EU nations were failing to send back those who did not qualify, the commissioner said.

Fewer than 900 of the hundreds of thousands who had arrived in Europe since September have been returned

home.

"Europe will provide protection for those who need it, but those who have no right to be here have to be returned," Avramopoulos said.

jm/sms (AFP, AP)

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