Urgent EU meetings aim to tackle refugee crisis head-on

Frances Fitzgerald joins ministers in Brussels to formulate long-term policy on issue

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald travels to Brussels today for a special meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald travels to Brussels today for a special meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 
Frances Fitzgerald

Today’s meeting will be followed by a two-day summit in Valletta, Malta on Wednesday and Thursday where Europe’s leaders have been summoned by EU Council president Donald Tusk to attend an extraordinary meeting on the fringes of a scheduled summit between EU and African leaders.

The heads of three of the main groups in the European Parliament have written to EU leaders ahead of the Valletta summit, including Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President Michael D Higgins, urging a comprehensive approach to the refugee crisis.

In the letter, the heads of the European People’s Party, Socialist and Democrats and liberal group Alde, urge European leaders to “mobilise more expertise and funding to assist African governments that express an interest in co-operating with the EU”.

“The Union cannot afford another failure or to lose time,” the letter states.

Finger-printing

GermanySweden

A senior EU official involved in the talks said the need to register and fingerprint asylum-seekers on arrival was a key priority: “No registration, no right. That should be the union’s position. There is a right to asylum but not in one specific country only.”

Thousands of refugees are continuing to leave countries such as Greece and Italy to seek refuge in Germany and Sweden which are perceived to have a more welcoming stance towards them.

But both countries are struggling to cope with the numbers arriving, with Swedish finance minister Magdalena Andersson warning on Friday that Sweden would no longer be able to offer housing to new arrivals. Sweden is expected to receive up to 190,000 refugees this year.

Open-door policy

In an interview ahead of a meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel, Donald Tusk, the head of the European Council, called on Germany to help Europe secure its external borders. The former Polish prime minister has been driving calls for the EU to prioritise border control in its response to the crisis.

EU justice ministers meeting today will also assess the implementation by states of decisions already taken to tackle the crisis, amid widespread concern in Brussels about the pace of implementation of the relocation plan.

The controversial proposal to relocate 120,000 refugees across the bloc was agreed in September despite bitter opposition from four east European countries.

The first 86 refugees from Italy were sent to Sweden and Finland last month, with the first 30 from Greece transported to Luxembourg last Wednesday. But Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras warned the numbers were “a drop in the ocean”.