The EU is trying to tighten borders to keep unwanted migrants out
By Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders said on Thursday they would tighten their borders to keep out unwanted immigrants, with some wanting more fences and walls while others prefer the money to improve living conditions in worse-off parts would give out to the world.
Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland and Denmark were among 27 national leaders who met at the EU hub of Brussels to express concerns about the rise in irregular arrivals, with around 330,000 border crossings registered last year became.
“European countries are seeing a sharp increase in the number of people arriving irregularly from outside Europe,” said Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
“It is important that we as Europeans decide who enters our countries, not the traffickers… Those who gain refugee status have the right to stay, others do not, and they should be sent back.”
Immigration has been a highly sensitive political issue in the EU since 2015, when more than a million people – mostly fleeing the war in Syria – crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe and member states fought bitterly over how to care for them.
Unable to agree, the bloc of 450 million people has decided to tighten its borders to prevent people from the Middle East, Africa and Asia from arriving, despite criticism that such policies are inhumane and that there are gaps in the labor market are neglected.
From Spain and Greece to Latvia and Poland, there were more than 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) of border walls and fences across the EU in 2022, compared with just over 300 kilometers (185 miles) in 2014, according to a European Parliament report.
With global mobility resuming since the COVID-19 pandemic, irregular arrivals into the EU surged last year to their highest level since 2016, reviving harsher anti-immigration rhetoric.
WALLS AND FENCES
“We must ‘brake’ illegal migration in the EU,” said Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer.
“We need the money for it, whether you call it a fence or border infrastructure. Bulgaria needs help with border surveillance and personnel, with technical equipment, any fence is only as good as effective surveillance.”
The EU executive, which manages the bloc’s joint budget, has long refused to fund border walls, though it does pay for surveillance equipment and other infrastructure.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel spoke out against funding walls, saying Europe’s legacy is overcoming post-World War II divisions and creating a zone of 27 countries where travelers can cross borders without controls.
“Bulgaria-Turkey is on the table at the moment… but that won’t be enough – so there will be new fences again and new walls again… Is the conclusion that we want a fortress in Europe?”
His Belgian counterpart said the situation was tantamount to a “major migration crisis”, while the Dutch prime minister advocated restricting visas and aid to countries that are not cooperating.
Italy has called for more money for Africa, Hungary wanted more walls and France said the EU should help fight poverty and terrorism around the world, as well as tackle global warming to see fewer people fleeing.
The bloc’s top diplomat said “Fortress Europe” is not the answer and that the EU should also offer immigrants legal entry options: “People are moving because there is no future, peace and stability in their countries,” said Josep Borrell.
Catholic charity Caritas said EU leaders should look into improving the bloc’s asylum procedures and reception centers to “put human rights and dignity at the heart”.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Sandra Maler)