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EU warns of 'disaster' if migrant talks fail

February 26, 2016

EU Migration Commissioner Avramopoulos has strongly criticized border controls and daily caps to stem the flow of migrants. His remarks came as Slovenia introduced limits on refugee numbers.

Griechenland Mazedonien Flüchtlinge bei Idomeni
Image: Reuters/M. Djurica

The European Commission's head of migration urged EU members to work closer together and avoid taking "unilateral actions", referring to the border controls that several EU countries have reintroduced since the start of the refugee crisis.

In a statement, Dimitris Avramopoulos criticized EU members who preferred to strike out on their own by introducing caps on how many asylum seekers they allow into their countries, leaving thousands of people stranded along the migrant route.

"If we want to exist in the future as [a united] Europe, we must set everyone before their responsibilities," he said. "If we believe that unilateral action is more effective than European action, then we are demolishing our common home."

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the effects of the refugee crisis were being exacerbated by some national governments not acting in line with what he called "common sense" solutions and at the same time isolating themselves from the rest of the bloc.

Jean-Claude Juncker
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also warned that unilateral action aggrevated the refugee crisisImage: picture alliance/ANP/R. van Lonkhuijsen

"Barriers do not solve any problems, on the contrary, they make them worse for other European Union countries, especially in southern Europe and the Balkans," Juncker said.

The statements came as Slovenia announced a new daily cap of 580 new arrivals each day. Neighboring nations Serbia and Croatia signaled that they would honor the new limit. Slovenia's restrictions came in response to Austria introducing caps last week. The Austrian caps call for 80 people to be allowed to apply for asylum in the country each day and for 3,200 people to be permitted to transit through Austria to other European countries.

Meeting with Turkey to 'decide everything'

Avramopoulos also announced that a meeting of EU and Turkish leaders on 7 March could be the occasion that would "decide everything." The meeting could prove to be pivotal for the implementation of an agreement between Brussels and Ankara signed in November 2015 that calls for 3 billion euros ($ 3.3 billion) in aid payments from the EU so that Turkey stems the number of people crossing its borders into Europe.

"If there is no convergence and agreement on March 7, we will be led to disaster," he said.

Deputy European Commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein, however, criticized Avramopoulos' statement, saying that the meeting on March 7 would merely serve to evaluate the implementation of deal, and that this wasn't the time to spread speculations about the future.

At a meeting of EU interior ministers earlier in February, Avramopoulos had already warned that the bloc's migration system could collapse in its entirety, as thousands of refugees continued to arrive from the Middle East and North Africa on a daily basis.

"In the next 10 days, we need tangible and clear results on the ground. Otherwise there is a risk that the whole system will completely break down," Avramopoulos said.

Greek-Macedonian border
Thousands of refugees have been stuck in Greece, with many currently staying at a camp along the Greek-Macedonian borderImage: Getty Images/AFP/S. Mitrolidis

Greece on the defensive

Greece's government meanwhile blamed Austria for ongoing difficulties in the migrant crisis. After Austria imposed new transit restrictions last week, thousands of refugees attempting to cross into central Europe remained stuck in Greece.

The row has resulted in Greece recalling its ambassador to Austria and rejecting a request from Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner to visit Athens. Authorities on some of the Greek islands were meanwhile ordered to restrict the number of migrants allowed to travel by ferry to the mainland.

"The policies of Austria and Hungary are turning Greece into a giant refugee camp," Deputy Education Minister Sia Anagnostoipoulou told Greece's state-run ERT television, adding that the EU was unraveling.

"What are we supposed to do: Let people drown in the Aegean Sea?" she said.

ss/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)