The European Union remains sharply divided on migration, with the five Mediterranean “first reception” countries – Greece among them – demanding guarantees that arriving migrants and refugees will be evenly distributed across the bloc.
The five – Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain – have sent a joint letter to Commissioners Margaritis Schinas (Promoting our European Way of Life) and Ylva Johansson (Home Affairs), the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU, the European Parliament and the executive director of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), Nina Gregori, saying they cannot take on further responsibilities over migration reception as long as there is no progress on commonly agreed solidarity rules, including a predictable resettlement process.
The letter was discussed and sent during Tuesday’s meeting of the EU’s Home Affairs Council. Greece’s Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarakis, who attended the Council, said the frontline states cannot be expected to effectively police their borders, provide sufficient reception facilities, register arrivals, process asylum applications, deport those who do not meet the asylum criteria and integrate those who do without the support and solidarity of all EU members.
He also emphasized the importance of Turkey’s fulfilling its commitments to fight smugglers’ networks, prevent migrant flows and accept returns.
The migration issue will be on the agenda of the next EU Summit, on June 24-25, after Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi insisted on it. But there has been little progress on contentious issues regarding the new migration pact proposed by the European Commission in September 2020, including upgrading the EASO to a fully fledged EU asylum agency.
From January to May, the number of “irregular” migrants coming into the EU reached 42,700, “approximately one-third higher than a year ago,” according to an internal note by Frontex, prepared for the Home Affairs Council and leaked to Politico Europe.
The increase from last year, at the time of the first quarantine, was about 30%, “primarily due to significantly higher figures on the Central Mediterranean, the Western African and the Western Balkan routes,” the Frontex note says.
By contrast, the flow of migrants from Turkey to Greece was significantly reduced, a fact attributed by Frontex to the Turkish Coast Guard’s more effective policing of its maritime borders.