Europe is facing a historic “moment of truth” over the huge influx of refugees and migrants arriving in EU countries, the European Commission’s vice-president Frans Timmermans said Friday.
Speaking on Kos, one of several Greek islands struggling to cope as thousands of people arrive from Turkey, Timmermans warned that if the EU fails to help refugees, Europe will be left to “the xenophobes, the extremists, who will destroy it.”
EU Migration and Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, who is touring countries on the frontline of the crisis with Timmermans, said Greece would in the coming days receive the first 33-million-euro installment of some 474 million euros ($528 million) of EU funding being given to the country to help tackle the influx.
“We are facing a moment of truth in European history,” Timmermans told a press conference. “We can succeed jointly and united, or we can fail each in our own way, in our own country, on our own islands.”
Cash-strapped Greece, which has just accepted a huge third international bailout, has seen more than 230,000 people land on its shores this year, many of them Syrian refugees seeking new lives elsewhere in Europe.
Athens has faced criticism over its response to the influx but has repeatedly said it is unable to cope with the scale of the crisis.
“We need to make sure that we are in a position to receive people in a humane fashion, to quickly ascertain their identity,” Timmermans said.
He added that further measures need to be taken to ensure the swift return of migrants who are not eligible for asylum.
“A Europe without borders cannot survive in the present conditions,” he said. “Our society is built on certain premises of organized solidarity that would be completely undermined if we simply would say everybody can come in.”
But he added that Europe also needed to meet its moral and legal obligations to give safe refuge to people fleeing war and persecution.
“If we forget this, we forget who we are and we leave Europe to the xenophobes, the extremists, who will destroy it,” he said. [AFP]