NEWS

EU ministers agree on Iraqi refugees: Out

European Union law enforcement ministers meeting in northern Greece agreed yesterday to spend 100 million euros to create centers for refugees fleeing Iraq – outside the EU. The informal meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council held in Veria – the constituency of its current president, Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis – agreed that refugees from Iraq, estimated at up to 600,000 by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, who attended the meeting, should not be allowed to cross EU borders. Any refugees fleeing war fronts should, if possible, be assisted within Iraq or «in neighboring countries,» as Greek Justice Minister Philippos Petsalnikos put it. The meeting also discussed the wider problem of illegal immigrants trying to enter the EU, but, apart from a reference to the «need to revive the activities of the Europol task force,» failed to agree on how to handle the 400,000 asylum-seekers and estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants annually entering the EU. A British proposal to hold such refugees in detention centers outside EU borders received support from Italy, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands, but was heavily criticized by other countries, especially Germany. Amnesty International also criticized the proposal, which would establish these detention centers in regions bordering the EU, but also close to the countries generating the refugee flow, such as Afghanistan. Great Britain, which gets the highest number of asylum-seekers each year, also floated a proposal for a quota system that would funnel refugees into other EU states. «I think 80 percent (of the ministers) gave support to the general principle and idea, but of course they have questions,» British Home Secretary David Blunkett told reporters. German Interior Minister Otto Schily countered that the detention centers would not be able to reduce the flow of refugees into the EU. «A question mark hangs over whether this is a useful measure… I am also of the opinion that a quota system cannot function either,» he said. On the question of Iraqi refugees, the ministers agreed that, despite Lubbers’s warnings, there was no question of any imminent wave of refugees. The informal council will conclude today. Its agenda also includes discussions on terrorism and organized crime.