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REFUGEE CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

Valls blasts Hungary’s approach to refugees

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls urged the Hungarian government to treat refugees at its borders humanely, saying its current attitude toward them was unacceptable.

Valls blasts Hungary's approach to refugees
“We are shocked by the images of women at Europe's borders. Each migrant must be treated with respect and humanely. We can not accept the statements, nor the attitudes, nor the barbed wire,” Valls told reporters in Stockholm.
   
“And even less the selection (of refugees) based on religion,” he added at a joint press conference with his Swedish counterpart Stefan Lofven.
   
Several countries, as well as the United Nations, have criticised Budapest's policy towards refugees and the violence used against them at Hungary's southern border with Serbia.
   
Echoing his remarks, Lofven said: “It is not okay to say 'as long as they're not Muslims'. That is an entirely unacceptable expression.”
   
Valls said the continent would not be able to cope unless everyone pulled together.
   
“If there's not a Europe-wide response, we will not be able to handle it,” he said.
   
The bloc has been severely divided over an EU plan for compulsory quotas which would enable the fair and equitable distribution of 120,000 refugees.
   
According to a French government official, Hungary and Slovakia are blocking the plan, although several other states, mostly in the east, have also opposed the quota system.
   
Record numbers of refugees have arrived in Sweden in recent weeks, peaking when 5,200 were registered in a single week, the highest number since June 1992 when around 5,000 were registered in a week during the Bosnian war.

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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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