EU Pondering Burden-Sharing for Syrian Refugees and African Migrants

Written by | Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

How to avoid tragedies like the one in which more than 200 African migrants drowned near the Italian island of Lampedusa last week and how to cope with the rising number of Syrian refugees – these were two of the most important contemporary issues discussed by EU justice ministers in Luxembourg on 8 October.
The Council reminded the EU ministers of the EU’s commitment to step up aid to the affected populations in Syria and neighboring countries, given the ongoing deterioration of the conflict. It’s been reported that the number of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries – Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and other the North African states – stands currently at 2.1 million and is expected to reach 3.4 million by the end of the year. Thousands of Syrian refugees have attempted to reach EU territory, with Bulgaria experiencing an unprecedented wave of arrivals through its land border with Turkey.
EU justice ministers were presented with a report on the results of a fact-finding mission carried out by the Commission, Easo and Frontex in Bulgaria, Cyprus and Greece, with the aim of monitoring the potential migratory pressures coming, in particular, from Syria. However, opinions remain divided over whether all EU member states were pulling their weight in accepting claims for asylum. There are also growing concerns that Bulgarian society could turn increasingly hostile to immigrants from Syria. For the first nine months of this year only, 6,400 immigrants have crossed the Bulgarian border illegally, most of them from Syria. While the number may be significantly smaller compared to those who reach Italy, Spain or Greece, dealing with the influx is putting pressure on the country’s limited resources for responding to mass immigration.
Ministers stressed the need to enhance the co-operation and dialogue with neighbors and countries of origin and transit of immigrants and to strengthen the management of external borders, especially by more effective use of the Frontex agency. They also called for greater efforts to fight organized groups involved in people trafficking. Since 1999, the EU has been working to create a Common European Asylum System and improve the current legislative framework. Although new EU rules have been agreed, setting out common high standards and stronger co-operation, EU countries rejected the Commission proposal that solidarity should apply and that asylum seekers from the countries mostly affected from the arrival of migrants should be relocated in other EU members.

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