Angela Merkel says EU refugee pledge only a first step

EU leaders agree to provide €1bn in humanitarian aid to UN refugee agency

German chancellor Angela Merkel believes Syrian president Bassar al-Assad should be included in the peace efforts. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

German chancellor Angela Merkel believes Syrian president Bassar al-Assad should be included in the peace efforts. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

 

A durable solution is still required for the refugee crisis, German chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday, despite EU leaders agreeing to a package of measures to tackle the crisis at an emergency summit in Brussels.

Following more than six hours of talks on Wednesday night, leaders pledged to provide €1 billion in humanitarian aid to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, and the World Food Programme.

They also voted to increase engagement with countries bordering Syria in an attempt to tackle the flow of refugees entering the European Union.

The idea of a common European border guard was also discussed, a proposal that would involve a significant change in policy given that external border control is mostly a matter of national sovereignty.

Pressure on Italy and Greece to focus on border management also featured during the summit, senior EU sources said, as the European Commission pledged to send support to front-line areas through “hotspot” centres that would help national authorities process asylum applications.

Entry areas

European CouncilDonald Tusk

“It is clear that the greatest tide of refugees and migrants is yet to come,” he said after the meeting. “Therefore we need to correct the policy of open doors and windows.”

The UNHCR expressed disappointment yesterday that the summit had failed to create more legal pathways for refugees to reach Europe.

Addressing parliamentarians in Berlin, Dr Merkel described the agreement reached in Brussels as a “first step”. But the refugee crisis could only be tackled by looking at the cause of the exodus, she said.

“That can only happen with the support of our transatlantic partners, the United States, as well as with Russia and the states of the region of the Middle East because of the dreadful situation in Syria,” she said.

Earlier in Brussels, Dr Merkel indicated that Syrian president Bassar al-Assad should be included in the peace efforts.

The EU’s move towards a more hardline position at the summit was widely seen as an attempt to mollify central and east European countries, which were forced to accept a relocation plan for refugees at a meeting of justice and home affairs ministers on Tuesday.

Majority vote

Despite the agreement in Brussels, refugees continued to enter the European Union yesterday, with more than 1,000 arriving yesterday on the Greek island of Lesvos from the Turkish coast, according to estimates.

Hungarian police said more than 10,000 people arrived in Hungary on Wednesday alone.

Tensions also persisted on the Croatian and Serbian border, where access has been curtailed. This provoked a furious response from Belgrade and Zagreb.

50,000 in Croatia

Serbia

EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn travelled to the region last night. There he was expected to signal increased European Commission resources to help Serbian authorities manage refugee reception areas, following the agreement by the council to increase funding to the region.

A western Balkan conference is scheduled for October 8th in Luxembourg, where EU justice ministers are scheduled to meet.