EU unveils plan to restore open borders | News | DW | 04.03.2016
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EU unveils plan to restore open borders

Europe has reportedly given Greece until May 12 to register refugees on its soil or else extend internal border controls. Meanwhile, EU President DonaldTusk is urging Turkey to do more to reduce migtant outflow.

The European Union is set to unveil Friday a so-called "roadmap" to restoring passport free travel inside the Schengen countries but wants greater cooperation from Greece.

Greece has been the main gateway for nearly a million refugees fleeing war, poverty and strife. Many have braved deadly winter seas in the Aegean - nearly all are on their way to wealthier northern Europe.

But the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants has caused countries like Austria, Germany and Sweden to reinstate passport checks at the borders. Sweden and Denmark on Thursday renewed its checks for another month. And Germany wants to keep border controls in place, but can't do so beyond May 13 without permission from its EU partners.

This tightening of border controls has left tens of thousands of refugees fleeing conflict and poverty stuck in Greece as EU resettlement plans have largely stalled.

Refugees sleeping in a public square in Athens.

Tens of thousands of migrants are trapped in Greece, prevented by various countries' border closures from moving north

Tens of thousands trapped inside Greece

A top UN official on migration, Peter Sutherland, told the Associated Press news agency that 70,000 people could be "trapped" in Greece in coming weeks because Macedonia and some other European countries are sealing their borders.

The "inevitable consequence" of closed borders throughout the Balkans "is that Greece increasingly becomes a camp for refugees and migrants," Sutherland said.

He noted that 70 percent of Syrians making their way to Europe are not pausing in Turkey, which itself is already hosting around 2.7 million Syrians.

"The issue for the global community is: Are we prepared to share responsibility, or not?" Sutherland said.

The latest plan to restore passport-free travel - while still in draft form - envisions creating an EU coastguard system and strengthening Greece's external borders. It also requires Athens to register its new arrivals for processing.

"Greece will have until May to protect its external borders," the EU's Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told the German newspaper Die Welt. "We will take stock of the situation on May 12. Should we see no success by then we will not hesitate to create requirements so that border controls in Europe can be extended."

He also told the paper the aim was to lift all border controls by November.

Mr. Tusk goes to Ankara

Donald Tusk meeting Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara

EU President Donald Tusk met with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara on Thursday. Turkey is pressing for cash assistance from the EU

Meanwhile, EU President Donald Tusk traveled to Turkey on Friday for meetings with the Turkish leadership. Tusk is relaying the EU's demands that Turkey do more to keep refugees - mostly Syrians and Iraqis - from entering the EU from its territory.

"It is for Turkey to decide how best to achieve such a reduction," Tusk said after meeting Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, floating the idea of a "fast and large scale mechanism" to ship back irregular migrants from Greece. "It would effectively break the business model of smugglers."

The Istanbul meeting is the last leg in a trip that included Greece and Slovenia and comes ahead of next week's Turkey-EU summit in Brussels where the migrant crisis again tops the agenda.

Tusk has tried to discourage would-be migrants from attempting to reach the EU. He's also pressing the Turkish government to reduce the numbers of people taking to small inflatable boats to reach Greece.

The International Organization for Migration says 120,369 migrants arrived in Greece from Turkey so far this year. At least 321 perished en route.

The EU this week earmarked 700 million euros ($760 million) in emergency aid plan to help Greece and other member countries, the first time humanitarian aid has been used within Europe.

An estimated 1.13 million migrants have arrived in the EU over the past 14 months.

jar/kms (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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