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IMMIGRATION

France to take in 24,000 refugees over two years

President François Hollande says France will take in 24,000 refugees over the next two years, as requested by Brussels.

France to take in 24,000 refugees over two years

France will open its doors to 24,000 refugees over the next two years, the country's president announced on Monday.

That’s the number the European Commission has asked France to accept under an urgent new plan aimed at easing the growing refugee crisis around Europe.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, President François Hollande said that France is “willing to play its part”.

Hollande said it was a “fundamental principle” of France to accept asylum seekers.

“It's the duty for France. The right of asylum is an integral part of our body and soul. Our history demands this responsibility,” he added.

“The French are a great people forged over generations of people who sometimes have come from far away,” said Hollande.

The new plan put together by European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker will be presented in Strasbourg on Wednesday and is aimed at seeing 120,000 refugees relocated around Europe over the next two years.

Under Juncker's plane Germany will be asked to take in 31, 000 refugees over the same period and Spain will be asked to take in 15,000 (see below).

“We cannot leave Germany alone to take on this responsibility,” Hollande said. 

The president stressed that Europe's open borders scheme, known as Schengen, would collapse without united EU efforts to relocate migrants and refugees.

'Schengen will end unless united EU effort'

“If there is not a united policy, this mechanism will not work, it will collapse, and it will… undoubtedly be the end of Schengen, the return of national borders,” he told the press conference in Paris.

Hollande's willingness to accept 24,000 refugees will put more pressure on the UK's David Cameron, who is set to give more details later on Monday on how many extra Syrian refugees Britain will accept. 

“The issue of refugees and displaced people is first and foremost an issue that affects southern countries… It affects Africa, the Middle East but also other continents including Asia,” the president said at his bi-annual press conference.

“We will propose to host an international conference on refugees in Paris.”

France's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve will host a meeting of mayors from across France on Saturday to discuss the logistics and possibilities of relocating refugees.

Last week Hollande and Germany's Angela Merkel called for binding quotas to be imposed on EU nations regarding the numbers of refugees they should take in.

The French presidency announced the two European powerhouses would send joint proposals to Brussels “for organising the welcome of refugees and their fair distribution in Europe” and for “reinforcing the European asylum system.”
   
With the large number of refugees and migrants flooding into Europe and moving through the continent, it warned that “dramas are being followed by tragedies.”
   
“Thousands of victims have died since the start of the year. The European Union must act in a decisive manner in line with its values,” the French presidency said.

 

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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