EU migrations commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos has accused several member states of not showing solidarity with others in addressing the refugee crisis.
“We observe during the last months, because of the refugee crisis, a trend towards re-nationalization of our policies,” Avramopoulos said on Thursday at a citizens’ dialogue meeting in Berlin.
“Nationalism, fanaticism and xenophobia are putting at stake the European dream and the European project,” he warned, referring to anti-refugee sentiments and the reluctance of several EU member states to accept refugees as part of a relocation plan.
Avramopoulos said a failure to share the refugee burden and a deepening of the crisis would result in the end of the EU’s Schengen agreement, which allows border-free travel through Europe.
“Schengen is the greatest achievement of European integration, the most tangible example of European integration. And Schengen is put in doubt nowadays. We must not permit it,” he stressed.
More than one million refugees arrived in Europe this year, mainly through Greece and Italy, and many of them managed to travel to Western industrialized nations, using the Western Balkans route.
Despite an EU deal agreed in September to share the refugee burden and relocate 160,000 asylum seekers, so far only around 200 refugees have been relocated, according to the EU Commission.
Cooperation with Turkey
Avramopoulos said the refugee crisis had caught the EU by surprise, but he expressed hope that recent initiatives will help to address the challenge.
He underlined that the EU’s dialogue and cooperation with Turkey would be key to finding a solution.
“I believe that the very first signs of this cooperation are still visible, during the last two months the flows have decreased,” he stressed.
Asked about recent reports of several human rights organizations criticizing domestic developments in Turkey, Avramopoulos told participants that all issues are discussed as part of the new dialogue between the EU and Turkey.
“It is not something like a flirt with Turkey; no, it is not that. It is cooperation in front of common challenges,” he said.
“Although Turkey is on board, I don’t think that we shall manage to put the whole situation under control. I am afraid that as long as instability exists in this part of the world, and this neighborhood is on fire, we shall have more flows in the future.”
“It is not only the cooperation with Turkey, it has to do with ‘how do we cooperate within the EU?’,” he added.
Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who attended the citizens’ dialogue meeting together with Avramopoulos, also underlined the significance of cooperation with Turkey to address the refugee crisis.
“I will have to defend Turkey again. Turkey has hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, without complaining, without really receiving any major international assistance.”
“Turkey also spent a lot of money for that. We just have to state that as a fact,” he said.
De Maiziere expressed hope that with the recently agreed EU-Turkey deal, situation of the refugees in Turkey will be improved, and refugee flows will decrease.
He underlined that EU’s promised aid of 3 billion euros ($3.27 billion) would be used for projects to improve conditions for refugees.
“This will not be part of the state budget, it is really allocated for concrete measures in favor of refugees, for refugee camps for example, for housing,” he stressed.
Turkey is currently hosting the world’s largest refugee population, including 2.3 million Syrians, and has spent around $8 billion over the last five years.