Brussels chides EU governments for failing on migration pledges

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 27, 2015 9:48 AM

STRASBOURG (Reuters) - Europe's governments are sapping efforts to tackle the migration crisis by not honoring commitments on money and resources, EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker said on Tuesday in a biting attack on national leaders.

"The gap between pledges and what is on the table must be reduced otherwise we are losing all kinds of credibility," the Commission president said during a report to the European Parliament on measures the EU is taking to stem and control an inflow of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and others.

Despite a common recognition of the need to tighten checks on the bloc's external borders as Greek and Italian authorities have struggled to cope with arrivals by sea, Juncker said fewer than half the 775 border guards and 374 immigration officials requested by EU agencies have been offered for secondment.

"The member states ... are moving slowly. They should start to run," he said, warning of the hardship migrants will face from the weather. "Winter is approaching. Every day counts."

Following legal commitments reached in councils of the 28 member states to relocate up to 160,000 asylum-seekers from Italy and Greece over the next two years, only nine governments had so far made a total of just 700 places available.

Fewer than 100 people have actually been flown to other host countries -- all from Italy. Leaders have given Greece and Italy until the end of next month to have so-called "hotspots" for the registration and potential relocation of migrants fully working.

European Council President Donald Tusk, who chairs summits of leaders, echoed the urgings of the EU executive. He described the goal of having fully operational hotspots in Italy and Greece by end-November as "ambitious" and said it would need a "significant acceleration of manpower and assets" to the EU's Asylum Support Office (EASO) and its Frontex border agency.

"HUGE" FUNDING GAP

Of 2.3 billion euros ($2.5 billion) promised by governments collectively to help Syrian refugees and aid Africans to reduce incentives to go to Europe, Juncker said only 486 million was covered by firm national pledges, condemning a "huge gap".

He appealed via the European lawmakers for governments to make good on promises before they arrive in Malta in two weeks time for a summit with African leaders on controlling migration.

Tusk, trying to forge consensus among national leaders with bitterly opposing views on how far to welcome refugees, said the EU was under threat and needed "extraordinary measures" but that not all governments were acting with the urgency required.

However, states had been generous to U.N. agencies helping refugees in difficult economic circumstances: "Let us also be fair," Tusk said, "This is not the easiest time for governments to spend fresh money. It is maybe the most difficult."

Lawmakers' responses ranged from calls to keep more people out of Europe to demands that Europe take more refugees in.

Several raised concerns about negotiations with Turkey, the main departure point, to stem the flow. But, acknowledging concerns over human rights and media freedom there, Juncker said: "Whether we like it or not, we have to work with Turkey."

(Writing by Alastair Macdonald in Brussels)