Germany warns of repeat of 2015 EU migration chaos
Germany warned on Tuesday of a repeat of the chaotic influx of migrants that caught the European Union unprepared in 2015, as Greece and Cyprus sounded the alarm over a resurgence of arrivals from neighbouring Turkey.
EU ministers met to discuss migration as Greece has again become the main gateway to Europe for people fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, with U.N. data showing nearly 45,600 arrivals by sea so far this year.
"If we leave all the countries on the EU's external border (to fend for themselves), there will never be a common European asylum policy," German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said.
"And if there is no common European asylum policy, there is a danger that uncontrolled immigration will once again take place, throughout Europe. We have seen this before and I do not want it to happen again," he told reporters in Luxembourg.
The bloc is wary of any recurrence of the 2015 crisis that sowed bitter divisions among EU states, strained social and security services and fuelled support for populist, anti-immigration, Eurosceptic and far-right parties.
Greece saw the highest monthly arrival numbers in August since the 2016 EU-Turkey deal that greatly reduced sea crossings there, according to a document - seen by Reuters - prepared by Finland, which currently holds the bloc's rotating presidency.
The pressure on overcrowded migrant camps on Greece's Aegean islands is rising anew. Charity group Oxfam said over 13,000 men, women and children were now crammed into the Moria camp on Lesbos that was designed to accommodate 3,100 people.
The long trip to Europe from the refugees' perspective
A boy who is soaking wet, volunteers entertaining children, moments of danger and of joy: #RefugeeCameras shows images taken during the journey to Europe. It is the subject of a new exhibition in Hamburg.
Zakaria received his camera on December 8 in Izmir, Turkey - one of the key hubs for refugees. The Syrian fled from the "Islamic State" terror militia and the government, according to McElvaney's #RefugeeCamera project. Out of safety concerns, Zakaria doesn't name his hometown. In his flight diary, Zakaria writes that only God knows if he will ever be able to return to Syria.
Zakaria documented his sea journey from Turkey to Chios. He was sitting in the back of his dinghy. At the Hamburg exhibition, which opens this weekend, the refugees' images will be complemented by a selection of shots taken by professionals, who helped to shape the representation of escape routes in the media. They all donated their works in order to support the project.
Hamza and Abdulmonem, both from Syria, photographed the perilous landing of their dinghy on a Greek island. There were no volunteers to offer them support. That is exactly what McElvaney had in mind when he launched #RefugeeCameras. So far, he says, the media have offered a "visual blank" in this respect.
After the landing, a young boy in wet clothes and life jacket stands on the pebbled beach. The image brings to mind Aylan Kurdi, the small Syrian boy whose lifeless body was washed ashore on a Turkish beach in September. The child in this picture made it to Europe alive. What became of him is not known.
Hamza and Abdulmonem also took this slightly blurred snapshot of the refugee group taking a break. McElvaney handed out 15 disposable cameras in total. Seven of them were returned, one was lost, two were confiscated, two remain in Izmir, where their holders are still stranded. The remaining three cameras are unaccounted for - just like their owners.
Dyab, a math teacher from Syria, tried to capture some of the better moments of his journey to Germany. Pictured here are his wife and his young son, Kerim, who shows us the packet of biscuits he was given in a Macedonian refugee camp. The images reveal Dyab's deep affection for his son, McElvaney says: "He wants to take care of him, even on this arduous trip which he was forced to take."
The story of Saeed, from Iran, is a different one. The young man had to leave the country after converting to Christianity. He could have been arrested or even killed. In order to be accepted as a refugee, he pretended to be Afghan. After his arrival in Germany, he explained his situation to the authorities' satisfaction. He now lives - as an Iranian - in Hanau, Hesse.
Saeed took this picture of a Syrian father and his child on a bus from Athens to Idomeni.
In another snapshot taken by Saeed, a volunteer working in a refugee camp somewhere between Croatia and Slovenia entertains a group of children, who try to imitate his tricks.
"The situation of children in the Moria camp is particularly worrying," Oxfam said in a statement, stressing that many of those under-age were on their own.
Though the deal with Turkey helped contain the 2015 crisis, rights groups condemned it for undercutting international humanitarian law on providing safe haven for refugees and aggravating the suffering of those already in distress.
In return for Turkish help, the EU pledged 6 billion euros on refugee projects in Turkey. The EU says the money has since been delivered, but Ankara disputes this and has asked for more.
"The situation in the Eastern Mediterranean is worrying," the bloc's top migration official, Dmitris Avramopoulos, said after Tuesday's meeting.
EU leaders will discuss Turkey at a summit in Brussels on 17-18 October, including what they say is Ankara's "illegal drilling" for gas and oil off the coast of Cyprus. Several diplomatic sources said the bloc would mull raising more funds for refugees in Turkey.
Spain has received the second highest number of seaborne migrants this year with nearly 30,000, followed by Italy at nearly 8,000, Malta at close to 1,600 and Cyprus at about 800, according to United Nations data.
Relative to population size, however, Cyprus is currently under the heaviest pressure, according to the Finnish note.
Cyprus, Greece and Bulgaria said in a separate document at the ministerial meeting, which was also seen by Reuters, that the situation bore "alarming elements of an emerging crisis".
"Europe cannot be caught unprepared for a second time... The EU will have to consider positively the allocation of further funds to those countries of the broader region of the Eastern Mediterranean route affected by immense migratory flows."
Rome and Valletta sought in vain to enrol on Tuesday more EU peers in a migrant relocation scheme they agreed with France and Germany last month for migrants rescued at sea while attempting to cross from North Africa.
The plan was largely seen as a political gesture towards Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who adopted a more EU-friendly tone after the ouster of the staunchly anti-immigrant Matteo Salvini and the formation of a new coalition in Rome.
Seehofer has said Germany could take in a quarter of migrants who reach Italy by sea. Rescue boats have repeatedly been stranded in the sea for weeks this summer as EU states quarrelled over who should host those on board.
The refusal of Hungary, Poland and their ex-communist peers on the eastern flank of the EU to help the "front-line", Mediterranean member states by hosting some migrants has eroded the bloc's unity since 2015. (Reuters)