Greece, Italy face off against easterners in EU migration feud

9 December 2016
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The European Union’s tug of war over how to share out the burden of caring for asylum-seekers is not over, Slovakia’s interior minister said on Friday after six months of trying unsuccessfully to bridge differences between member states.

Central and Eastern European governments opposed to taking in refugees are at loggerheads with countries on the frontline of the crisis such as Greece and Italy. Nearly all the 350,000 migrants to reach Europe’s shores this year have arrived in those two countries.

“It is very important that there is a common agreement, which is what we still don’t have now,” said the Slovak minister, Robert Kalinak, arriving in Brussels to chair the last meeting of EU interior ministers under his country’s presidency of the bloc.

“We need to work more with our colleagues from Poland and Hungary, and also Greece and Italy on the other side.”

The uncontrolled arrival of some 1.4 million refugees and migrants in the past two years, many fleeing conflicts such as Syria’s civil war, has triggered bitter EU infighting over how to handle them.

The differences centre on how countries far from the main migration routes should help their frontline peers like the Greeks and Italians. Germany, Sweden and Austria, the wealthiest countries and destinations of choice, also want some sort of permanent relocation scheme to share people out more evenly.

But eastern EU states including Poland, Slovakia and Hungary have refused to take in any asylum-seekers, saying admitting Muslims would distort the traditional makeup of their societies.

They refuse to be told what to do by Brussels, which has led efforts to impose relocation quotas.

Italy has raged against the easterners and threatened to block any further work on EU budgets, which normally provide billions of euros of funds to Poland and its neighbours to allow the ex-communist states to catch up with their western peers.

“We don’t know what the future holds for us but it’s very important that we are ready for it by having a common asylum policy,” the bloc’s migration chief, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said on arriving at the meeting.

Ministers will discuss the contentious problem but there is little sign they will be able to overcome their divisions.

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