Thu, Sep 24, 2015 - Page 6 News List

EU leaders meet as row over refugees escalates


Refugees and migrants yesterday wait at the train station at the village of Idomeni, Greece.

Photo: EPA

EU leaders were yesterday holding an emergency summit on boosting aid and tightening borders to tackle the migration crisis, but a growing east-west split over a deal to relocate 120,000 refugees threatens to poison the talks.

Hours before the meeting, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban rejected German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “moral imperialism” over the worst such crisis since World War II, while Slovakia said it would dispute the refugee quota deal in court.

Despite Croatia reporting a record number of arrivals and countries across the region feeling the strain from refugees from war zones like Syria, EU leaders appeared as divided as ever.

Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia voted against the relocation plan, saying the EU has no right to override national sovereignty and make them accept people from frontline states.

“The most important thing is that there should be no moral imperialism,” Hungary’s hardline leader said during a visit to the southern German state of Bavaria when asked what he expected from Merkel.

European Council President Donald Tusk hopes to move on from the 120,000 refugee relocations, which is just a fraction of the 500,000 migrants who have come to Europe’s shores and the estimated 4 million on Syria’s borders.

In response to the spiraling crisis, at the summit Tusk was to ask leaders to address issues including strengthening the union’s external borders, amid concerns the EU’s internal passport-free zone is under threat.

Greece was expected to come under particular pressure to accept EU help to strengthen its borders.

Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, was reportedly also pressing EU leaders to offer more aid to affected countries outside the bloc, including the Western Balkans, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, as well as to the UN World Food Programme.

Ahead of the meeting, the European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation bloc, proposed an extra 1.7 billion euros (US$1.9 billion) in funds.

Orban has proposed a 3 billion euro fund for dealing with the crisis, but it was not clear whether the leaders would discuss that.

With tensions brewing, EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos yesterday rejected any suggestion that the rare failure to reach a unanimous agreement on the plan did more harm than good.

“On the contrary, it is a victory for the EU and for all member states,” Avramopoulos said.

Yet Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico, whose country would be made to take 800 migrants under the plan, said he was prepared to break the EU’s rules rather than accept the “diktat” from Brussels.

In a sign of the problems within the union, the European Commission said it had issued formal warnings to 19 EU states, including Germany, for breaching rules on the treatment of asylum seekers.

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