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Europe

EU ponderously slow tackling refugee crisis

EU states have not respected their commitments, despite the urgent refugee crisis. Instead, they will hold a summit again. Bernd Riegert reports from Brussels.

In the special meeting on the refugee crisis just three weeks ago, the 28 heads of state and government of the European Union agreed on a number of urgent measures to manage "the biggest challenge in decades," as it was stated in summit documents.

Now, one day before the next EU summit, the EU Commission has drawn up an interim report to present the resolutions that have been implemented. "I'm concerned about the gaps," said the vice-president of the EU Commission, Frans Timmermans, who gave the EU countries poor grades for their efforts. He reminded the press in Brussels that, "words must now be followed by actions."

Promises fulfilled reluctantly

A glance at the figures shows what the EU commissioner means. EU leaders decided on a billion-euro relief fund for Syria. The European Commission has already provided half the money - 500 million euros - from the Community fund. The EU states planned to pay for the other half, but until now, only eight million euros have materialized. EU leaders also agreed to provide the UN World Food Program with another billion euros for refugee camps in Turkey. The European Commission has paid 200 million euros and all the EU states together, 270 million.

Griechenland Kos PK Migration Flüchtlinge Timmermans und Avramopoulos

EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans (r.): I am concerned

Basically, more than half of the emergency aid for the World Food Program is missing. Furthermore, there is still no money in the special refugee assistance fund for countries of origin in Africa, according to the EU Commission.

A representative of the German government in Berlin, who wishes to remain anonymous, has admitted that the EU states' participation in their own resolutions "is not quite as pronounced as we would like it to be." Germany has pledged 100 million euros, but only a fraction the money has arrived in Brussels.

Staff needed urgently

The staff situation is not much better. The European external borders agency (Frontex) and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) together announced that they needed 1,149 experts for their staff. Police officers and officials from EU countries are to work in registration centers and on border patrols. After repeated appeals to EU states, only 129 people from very few countries have signed up. Most of them come from Austria. EU leaders now want to discuss what else can be done to fill these crucial gaps. "This time, it won't work to just sit back and relax," said an EU official in an interview with journalists in Brussels.

Hot spots slowly emerging

The European Commission has seen some initial progress in the creation of the so-called hot spots. According to the Commission's definition of hot spots, advisory and support teams will help authorities in Italy and Greece register refugees, organize asylum procedures and manage the relocation of refugees to other EU countries from their point of entry.

The first actual hot spot, complete with staff from Frontex and EASO, has been operating on the Italian island of Lampedusa for the past two weeks. Four more hot spots are slated to open in Italy. In Greece, the hot spots will be set up on Aegean islands. The first one will soon open on Lesbos. However, Greece still lacks the means to accommodate the thousands of refugees arriving every day. Right now, Greece can only receive 2,000 people but around twice as many asylum seekers and refugees currently arrive in the country on a daily basis.

Lampedusa Triton. Schiffsfriedhof auf Lampedusa, Italien

Wrecked refugee boats are scattered across the Italian island of Lampedusa

Distribution of refugees has slowly begun

The distribution of refugees based on quotas has begun. The first 19 people from Eritrea were flown from Italy to Sweden last week. In Greece, relocation will begin next week. "Of course, this has just been tested. The numbers need to grow rapidly," said an EU official. Thousands of relocations per week are necessary in order to attain the target of 160,000 refugees in the next two years. The distribution plan was forced on some eastern European countries as an "emergency measure" against their will. The goal of setting a fixed distribution key is still remote. But the EU will continue to work on it, say sources from the EU Commission.

Shared border management will take time

At the special summit three weeks ago, EU countries decided to establish a joint Coast Guard for better protection for example, of Greece's maritime borders. Not much progress has been made on this issue as the EU nations have not yet agreed on who will ultimately be responsible: the EU as a whole, or the individual country.

"In any case, we will submit a proposal on joint border protection in a few weeks," announced Frans Timmermans, without providing details. The Greek government opposes joint border controls with Turkey. The two NATO members have been arguing for decades over the maritime border between them.

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