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Migrant crisis agreement hangs in the balance

16 September 20150 comments

Europe remains in the grip of a migration crisis with European Union nations locked in an impasse over plans to distribute hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers across the continent.

Meeting in an emergency session on Monday to discuss the crisis, EU interior ministers were unable to agree on a formula to distribute asylum-seekers according to each nation’s capacity to accept them.

The plan has been proposed by German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière who said a clear commitment was needed to set up registration camps for refugees in hot-spots.

He also called for a clear description of the mechanism for how the redistribution will happen, according to a concrete timetable.

A plan to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers is set to get legal backing from ministers, partly because this is voluntary.

But the compulsory distribution of 120,000 more faces resistance, mostly from ex-communist states in central and Eastern Europe.

Some European countries have announced they will allow refugees to stay, including Germany, Sweden, France and the UK.

As the latest discussions ended, one of the main routes used by refugees to reach the safety of the European Union was closed on Tuesday, when Hungary formally closed its border with Serbia.

A long-promised fortified border fence has been finished, blocking off a pathway that has brought more than 160,000 people into northern Europe since the start of the year. And Hungarian authorities say they have arrested close to 200 people for breaching new laws aimed at stopping asylum seekers flowing through the border area.

According to the EU’s border agency Frontex, 156,000 asylum seekers have entered the European Union in the month of August alone.

The total number of migrants entering the EU in 2015 has reached a record breaking 500,000, compared to the mere 280,000 that entered in 2014.

Many of the refugees heading to Europe are fleeing wars or oppressive conditions in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea.

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon

Meanwhile, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has admitted that the UN security council is failing Syria because of big power divisions which have prevented action to end a conflict that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and driven the biggest refugee exodus in a generation.

The UN secretary general told that Guardian website that Russia and China should “look beyond national interest” and stop blocking security council action on the conflict in Syria as the flow of refugees to Europe reaches unprecedented levels.

“We need some solidarity, unity of purpose, particularly among the permanent members of the security council,” he said in the interview.

“When they are divided, it is extremely difficult for the UN to deliver. That’s why I’ve been urging the members of the security council to look beyond national interest. We have to look for the global interest.

“When the security council members are united we have seen very speedy and tremendous impact in addressing the issues, as we have seen in the case of chemical weapon investigation in Syria,” he said.

At the same time most Americans now say the US and its allies bear at least some of the responsibility for the migrant crisis in Europe and favour taking in some of the refugees who have been streaming from the Middle East and North Africa into Europe, according to a new CNN poll.

Democrats and Republicans generally agree that the U.S. and its allies have some of the responsibility for the crisis, with 56 per cent of Democrats saying so, as do 50 per cent of Republicans. But there is a broader divide by ideology with 61 per cent of liberals saying the US has some of the responsibility, compared with 49 per cent of conservatives.

The U.S. has accepted about 1,500 refugees from Syria since 2011, but President Barack Obama announced last week that would be scaled up to at least 10,000 in the coming fiscal year, which begins October 1.



Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist