The Europe Union’s migration commissioner said Wednesday that the bloc has made progress on handling migration issues, but more remains to be done and efforts need to be strengthened, particularly in filling gaps in the EU border agency.
“We need to work toward structural and long-term solutions because we don’t know what the future” holds, Dimitris Avramopoulos said during a news conference in Brussels.
He noted EU member states must take stronger action on carrying out the returns of those denied asylum in Europe, and called on member states to “urgently fill the … gaps for the European border and coast guard agency,” which would provide support if needed on the Greece-Turkey border.
Avramopoulos noted a significant increase in the number of illegal crossings on the border, while stressing the figures were still far below those of the height of the migration flow into Europe and saying the situation was “under control.”
The EU says 6,108 people have crossed the Greece-Turkey land border illegally so far this year, a nine-fold increase from the same period last year. A further 9,349 arrived by sea on Greek islands from the Turkish coast. Camps on Greek islands are severely overcrowded, with many holding three times as many people as they were constructed for.
Avramopoulos said the European Commission wouldn’t support the building of a fence or wall on the Greek-Turkish border.
“We are against building walls,” he said. “Europe will never become a fortress Europe.”
The commissioner stressed unity was needed among EU members, where a handful of nations have objected to the idea of taking in refugees.
“Solidarity has to be maintained and be upheld my all member states,” Avramopoulos said. “I believe that in the end, reason will prevail. … No country can handle this issue alone.”
Separately, Europe’s statistics agency said Wednesday that 31,400 of those who applied for asylum in an EU country last year were unaccompanied minors, a drop by nearly half compared to the 63,200 unaccompanied children and teenagers who applied for asylum in 2016. About two-thirds – 24,200 – were aged 16 and 17, while 2,000 were less than 14 years old. [AP]