Thu, Oct 29, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Refugees might cause ‘tectonic changes’: Tusk

SEA CHANGE:European Council President Donald Tusk said the refugee crisis has the potential to alter the EU irrevocably, and member states are reacting too slowly

AFP, LJUBLJANA

Syrian refugees arrive on a raft, in rough seas, on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos on Tuesday.

Photo: Reuters

Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II risks triggering “tectonic changes,” a top EU official said on Tuesday, as figures showed more than 700,000 newcomers have reached the continent’s Mediterranean shores this year.

“The situation will deteriorate even further,” European Council President Donald Tusk said, warning of a “new wave of refugees [arriving] from Aleppo and other Syrian regions under Russian bombardment.”

“I have no doubt that this challenge has the potential to change the European Union we have built,” he told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

“And what is even more dangerous, it has the potential to create tectonic changes in the European political landscape. And these are not changes for the better,” he said.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker slammed EU member states for providing less than half of the guards pledged to the bloc’s Frontex border agency in migrant and refugee hotspots Greece and Italy.

“Member states have been moving slowly at a time when they should be running,” he said.

Of the 775 border guards needed, EU countries have only provided 326 over the past month, Juncker said, adding that many bloc members had also failed to keep their promises of financial support.

The stinging criticism came after the EU vowed to help set up 100,000 places in reception centers in Greece and along the migrant and refugee route through the Balkans as part of a 17-point action plan devised with the countries most affected by the crisis.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande yesterday held talks in Paris, with a French official saying afterwards the two shared “the same position on what should be done politically and. .. on the front line.”

More than half of this year’s arrivals in Europe so far have been from Syria, which has been torn apart by a four-year civil war, followed by Afghanistan and Iraq, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.

“They have a right to seek asylum without any form of discrimination,” UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien said, warning that the worsening crisis in Syria meant about 13.5 million people were now in need of assistance.

“This is one of the largest displacement crises of modern times,” he said.

More than half a million people have reached Greece’s shores and about 140,000 have arrived in Italy since January, while at least 3,200 have either died or gone missing while making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.

The flow shows no sign of abating, despite the rapid approach of winter, according to the International Organization for Migration, which reported the arrival of more than 9,000 people in Greece over the weekend.

Europe launched a military operation against people smugglers three weeks ago, but it has not seized any vessels or made any arrests so far, and its No. 2 warned it will have little effect without taking to Libyan waters.

“The operation will only be effective when we can work close to the [smuggler] networks, go after the big fish, not the little ones who go out to sea,” EU Navfor commander Rear Admiral Herve Blejean said in Rome.

Most refugees and migrants are heading for western Europe, particularly Germany, and on Tuesday, officials said that a group were locked in a standoff with Swedish authorities, complaining that the village where they have been taken is “too cold” and isolated.

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