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Refugee crisis 'threat' to free travel

June 16, 2015

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has warned that failure to tackle refugees could make EU countries reintroduce border checks. This could have adverse effects on free travel within the Schengen region.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere
Image: picture-alliance/epa/J. Warnand

Thomas de Maiziere, Germany's interior minister, expressed his worries about countries failing to act responsibly towards incoming refugees and said this could lead to restrictions in traveling within the European Union (EU).

"We are not striving towards changes in the Schengen [agreement]. We do not want to reintroduce systematic checks," de Maziere said on the sidelines of a meeting with EU interior ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday.

"[However] If responsibilities are not fulfilled, then the end of free travel in Europe would be the result," he added, referring to the Dublin agreement, which obliges refugees to apply for asylum in their country of entry.

According to the pact, Italy and Greece would have to look after refugees who come to their shores. However, Italy has often been accused of not registering refugees and simply sending them to other EU countries.

Strategies to tackle refugees

De Maiziere has found support in his French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve, who also believes that a lack of solidarity among Schengen countries could endanger free travel. Both have proposed a quota system to take on refugees and demanded that only migrants with "real chances of staying" should be sent to other countries from the country where they land. Asylum seekers coming to Europe for economic reasons should be sent back to their homelands, the ministers suggested.

Flüchtlinge Grenzgebiet Türkei Syrien
Refugees at a camp on the Turkish-Syrian borderImage: Reuters/U. Bektas

There were also demands to address the roots of the refugee problem by catching human smugglers who charge money for bringing people to Europe. Britain's Interior Minister Theresa May made the suggestion saying that EU countries needed to eradicate criminal groups that made money by trading human lives.

A 'slap' for Europe

As of now, the crisis seems to be escalating after violence occurred between migrants and police in a refugee camp near Italy's border with France. Italy has termed the incident "a slap in the face for Europe."

Rome and Athens, both member states in the EU's Mediterranean frontier, have been complaining of not being able to tackle the enormous number of refugees landing at their shores. Over 60,000 have arrived already since the beginning of this year in Italy alone.

EU ministers have been discussing methods of handling the influx of migrants from conflict zones in the Middle East and northern Africa, with the European Commission proposing to rehabilitate 40,000 refugees from Italy and Greece in other EU nations within the next two years. France and Germany have also demanded a quota system for distributing migrants across the continent and several countries have deployed ships on the Mediterranean to save migrants coming to Europe in flimsy boats.

However, a lasting solution remains elusive.

mg/ rc (AFP, dpa)