EU leaders brace for new wave of refugees

Heads of state and government from European Union countries gathered in Brussels Thursday for a summit dominated by the war in Syria and the migrant situation in Turkey.

The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said Thursday that Europe must be prepared to handle “all possible scenarios” that could cause “a new massive exodus of refugees.”

Tusk said the deteriorating conditions in Syria and volatile situation in Libya will be high on the agenda, as well as help for major migrant- and refugee-hosting countries like Greece, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

“We will address the very complex situation in the region. Our talks with Turkey are ongoing, Libya is still volatile, and the situation in Syria is deteriorating. All this may lead to a new massive exodus of refugees. It is our obligation to be prepared for all possible scenarios. We must ask ourselves if the decisions we are going to take are sufficient to contain a new migratory wave,” Tusk said.

Call for solidarity

French President Francois Hollande said on arrival at the EU summit that now is the time when “we must also be European,” calling for solidarity within the bloc to deal with the migrant and refugee crisis.

Hollande stressed the need to support countries outside the 28-member union and to encourage migrants to stay in current host countries rather than make the dangerous journey by unsafe boats across the Mediterranean to EU countries.

“We must also and above all now make sure that the countries welcoming refugees outside of the European Union, I’m thinking of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, can be helped because if not, we know very well what might happen. That is to say this movement, this departure of people (from these countries) will come to the European coast, creating dramas that I want to avoid,” Hollande said.

Turkey has hosted about two million Syrians who have escaped fighting in their homeland.

‘Fair distribution of the burden’

Speaking to journalists in Brussels, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also addressed the migrant crisis, saying that the burden needs to be distributed fairly between the EU’s 28 countries.

“It will not be possible to achieve final results tonight, but I hope that we will get clear signals that all countries will fulfill their financial responsibilities and that all countries are prepared to provide manpower because it is obvious that just a few countries currently have a lot of migrants and if they all also have to provide people at the outer borders, then I don’t think that is what we understand by a fair distribution of the burden,” the chancellor said.

Earlier, Merkel said in Germany’s lower house of parliament that Europe must cooperate with Turkey to handle the migrant crisis – Western Europe’s biggest influx of asylum-seekers since World War II.

Merkel said Turkey is a key transit point for most migrants moving west. She said Europe and Turkey must work together to improve conditions in the places from where the migrants originate.

‘World’s worst humanitarian crisis’

Meanwhile, addressing the Italian parliament on Thursday to mark the 60th anniversary of Italy’s accession to the United Nation, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised Italy for its tireless operations rescuing migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean, as they flee wars, discrimination, hunger or economic crises in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

In his address, Ban also deplored the situations in Syria and Libya.

“The war in Syria is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. My special envoy, Mr. Staffan De Mistura, former deputy foreign minister of Italy, is leading our efforts to forge a lasting political solution. We are also addressing the situation in Libya. I am calling on Libyan leaders to endorse the political agreement and move to realize the ambitions of the 2011 revolution,” Ban said.

Meanwhile, the wave of migrant and refugees continues, with hundreds taking the perilous journey across the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas every day.

According to the latest figures from the International Organization for Migration, 2,989 migrants have died in 2015 while attempting to cross the Mediterranean and 580,238 have reached European shores.


(Photo, of migrants trying to avoid being registered in a refugee camp as they cross the Croatian-Serbian border in Tovarnik, through the fields: EC Audiovisual Service)