No breakthrough on refugees in Brussels talks

20 February 2016
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No breakthrough was achieved Friday as European Union leaders met in Brussels to discuss the migration issue while data showed more than 11,000 people had crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey in a three-day period this week.

The rift caused by the influx into the 28-member EU was brutally exposed in the Belgian capital as a decision by Austria to introduce a daily cap on asylum seekers prompted a warning from Greece that it would not sign the final conclusions of the summit, including a text on Britain’s membership.

“We can’t agree unless there is a clear statement in the conclusions that there won’t be any unilateral action until the next summit. No borders should close until then,” a Greek government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

According to the same official, Athens received assurances from Germany and Paris that the status of European borders will remain unchanged at least until the next special summit on March 6.

During the trilateral meeting, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said that “Greece has shouldered most of the burden, and this must be reflected in the decisions taken,” a source close to the PM told Kathimerini.

Greece is relying on Berlin’s support for an EU-Turkish deal to stem migrant flows coupled with a resettlement scheme. Skeptical Central and Eastern European states however are pushing for a border clampdown that would effectively leave Greece outside the passport-free travel Schengen area.

The so-called Visegrad Four (V4) – Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – have been joined by Austria. Vienna’s announcement that it will cap the daily number of asylum claims at 80 and keep the maximum number of transits at 3,200 prompted a reaction from Germany and the EU.

Meanwhile, the flow of migrants and refugees to Greece’s islands has picked up again. Data showed that 1,783 people arrived on Tuesday, 4,611 on Wednesday and 4,824 on Thursday – a total 11,218 over three days.

According to UNICEF, an average of two children have drowned in the Aegean every day since September, describing the crossing as “among the deadliest routes in the world for refugees and migrants.”

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