Luxembourg foreign minister tells EU to take refugee obligations seriously

Jean Asselborn said he was confident plans would get back on track under the new Maltese EU Presidency. [Dutch Foreign Ministry/ Flickr]

The European Union cannot ignore the images of freezing refugees and must implement its redistribution programme, according to Luxembourg’s foreign minister. EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn has called on Brussels to speed up the implementation of its refugee redistribution programme, as winter conditions make life intolerable for people waiting in Greece and Italy.

“Redistribution is the key to progress,” Asselborn told Der Tagesspiegel. “The point is to show effective solidarity,” he added. Bitter winter weather has made life even more difficult for refugees in Greece, Italy and non-EU member Serbia.

“Instead of constantly thinking up new schemes for reception centres outside of the European Union, we would be better off implementing what we have already agreed on,” Asselborn insisted.

Luxembourg foreign minister wants Hungary out of EU

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, has called for Hungary to be thrown out of the European Union. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Asselborn’s Austrian counterpart Sebastian Kurz recently renewed his call for illegal migrants to be accommodated in reception centres outside of the EU’s external borders. Similar proposals have the support of members of Germany’s CDU and CSU parties.

EU interior ministers decided in 2015 to redistribute 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy among the remaining member states. But the idea ran into strong opposition from several Eastern European countries. Hungary even held a referendum on it and it teamed up with Slovakia to lodge a complaint at the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Former Népszabadság editor: Orbán's referendum was no failure

Hungarian newspaper Népszabadság was closed down in October 2016, in a move that was seen by many observers as the Budapest government’s attempts to crack down on dissenting voices. EURACTIV’s partner Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft talked to its former deputy-editor.

To date, EU countries have only relocated 10,000 refugees. But Asselborn said that he was confident that under the current EU Presidency, held by Malta, more progress will be made.

Regarding the more immediate concern of the plight facing refugees in Greece and Italy, the experienced foreign minister said that all EU countries are ready to provide civil protection assistance, including tents.

Syriza politician Giorgos Chondros also criticised the sluggish progress that has been made by the EU programme. He told German radio that taking in refugees is a European problem that no country can handle by itself.

Chondros also denounced the EU-Turkey refugee deal and the fact that refugees are forced to stay on the islands of the eastern Aegean, rather than coming to the mainland. “The islands’ capacity is exhausted,” he warned. Currently, the Greek islands are playing host to some 14,600 migrants.

Turkey blocks UNHCR access to Syrian refugees

UN refugee agency UNHCR has been kept from visiting asylum seekers after they were deported from Greece to Turkey, according to a leaked letter from the organisation’s Athens office.

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 1,202 refugees have entered the EU since the beginning of the year and most of them have done so through Italy and Greece. There are currently an estimated 75,000 migrants and refugees stranded in Greece and the Western Balkans.

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