EU Urges Nations to Accept Refugees as Italy Sees Arrivals Spike

  • Number of migrants reaching Italian coast doubles in a month
  • Greece must give EU more information about border control

The European Union said nations need to act faster to share the burden of dealing with refugees, warning of a rise in the number of migrants who are fleeing to Italy since a deal to turn people away from Greece.

Governments have made “unsatisfactory” progress following last year’s promise to share between them 160,000 migrants who have arrived in Greece and Italy, the European Commission said in a report published on Tuesday. As of Monday, 1,145 people have been relocated to other EU nations.

“We cannot be satisfied with the results achieved so far,” European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said in a statement. “Relocation efforts have to be increased dramatically to reply to the urgent humanitarian situation in Greece and to prevent any deterioration of the situation in Italy.”

With the influx of people seeking refuge in Europe from turmoil in Syria and across the Arab world dominating European politics for more than a year, governments and the EU have floundered as they search for a response. The failure to live up to the commitment to share 160,000 -- compared with more than 1 million who arrived in 2015 -- signals that the difficulties continue.

An agreement struck between the EU and the Turkish government to send newly arriving Syrian refugees who make it to Greece back to Turkey came into operation last week. That has done little to ease the humanitarian situation in migrant camps on Greek islands and the mainland where, according to the United Nations refugee agency, about 53,000 migrants are living.

The need for nations to do more to share the burden is “increasingly urgent in view of the humanitarian situation in Greece,” the Brussels-based commission said.

Greatest Share

France and Finland have taken in the greatest share of refugees from Greece and Italy, welcoming 379 and 246 people, respectively, according to the commission. Eight EU countries have accepted none, not including the U.K. which has an opt out from the project.

EU officials feared that since they declared the Western Balkan route -- northward from Greece to Germany -- closed and started sending refugees back to Turkey, migrants might try to find alternative routes to Europe.

The latest figures signal that may be happening, with March showing a jump in the number of refugees heading to Italy where there is no agreement in place for immediate deportation. During the course of the month, 9,676 migrants made the journey to Italy, compared with 3,828 in February and 2,283 in March 2015, according to the UN.

In a separate report published on Tuesday, the commission kept up pressure on Greece, saying that it has not provided enough information to prove it has addressed failings in the management of its borders. If this continues, the temporary internal EU border checks along the migratory route further north through Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone could be prolonged for up to two years. Under the rules, that would be through four six-month periods.

“The commission remains prepared to pursue this course if necessary, as a means of safeguarding the functioning of the Schengen area as a whole,” the EU’s executive said in an e-mailed statement.

Germany, one of the countries that introduced temporary controls last year, is scaling back passport checks on the Austrian border and may end them by May 12 if the number of refugees crossing remains low, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told Austrian public broadcaster ORF.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.