PM says Denmark ‘ready to help’ Greece stem refugee arrivals

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has contacted the governments of Greece and Bulgaria to offer Danish assistance in preventing an uptick in migrant and refugee crossings from Turkey.

PM says Denmark 'ready to help' Greece stem refugee arrivals
People walking near the Turkish-Greek border on March 3rd 2020. Photo: Ozan Kose/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix

Denmark is also to offer one of its surveillance aircraft to the EU’s border control agency Frontex to assist in light of the changing circumstances around the Greek-Turkish border, Ritzau reports.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday opened both the overland border and the sea route between Turkey and the EU. That includes borders with both Greece and Bulgaria.

The PM said she was concerned about a potential increase in refugee and migrant arrivals in the EU as a result of the Turkish decision.

“There’s no doubt that Greece and Bulgaria face a big job in protecting Europe’s outer border,” she said.

“I have therefore contacted my Greek and Bulgarian colleagues and given notice that Denmark is ready to provide support with contributions that can protect Europe’s borders,” she said.

Frederiksen has written to Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov.

In the letter to Mitsotakis, she called the situation faced by Greece “extremely difficult” and the burden on the EU country “unacceptable”, Ritzau reports.

The Danish Challenger surveillance aircraft offered to Frontex would assist with the agency’s efforts against irregular migration and cross-border crime in the Mediterranean region.

Thousands of people have attempted to cross into Greece since Erdogan’s decision to open borders on Saturday. Greece has so far denied the migrants entry.

According to a UN estimate, up to 13,000 people are currently stranded at Greece’s border with Turkey.

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has promised the Greeks assistance, while Denmark’s foreign minister Jeppe Kofod has said the country “would not accept” a repeat of the situation in late 2015, when there was a peak in refugee arrivals in Europe from conflict zones such as Syria.

“Protection of the EU’s outer border is an important priority for the government. That’s why we have reacted quickly and reached out to both Greece and Bulgaria,” Kofod said.

READ ALSO: Denmark against EU agreement to distribute refugees: minister

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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.