BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Eastern European Union states remain at loggerheads with “frontline” countries such as Greece and Italy over sharing the burden of caring for asylum-seekers reaching EU frontiers, officials said on Friday.
Largely uncontrolled arrival of some 1.4 million people from the Middle East and Africa in the past two years, many fleeing Syria’s civil war, has triggered bitter EU infighting. Dispute centres on how countries far from the main migration routes should help frontline peers like Greece, Italy and Malta.
“It is very important that there is a common agreement, which is what we still don’t have now,” said Slovak interior minister Robert Kalinak. “We need to work more with our colleagues from Poland and Hungary, and also Greece and Italy on the other side.”
EU migration chief Dimitris Avramopoulos said it was vital that member states overcome their differences and agree on common rules on handing asylum-seekers to be prepared for any future spike in arrivals.
Nearly all of the 350,000 migrants and refugees to reach Europe’s shores this year have arrived in Greece and Italy, with Italy becoming the main gateway to Europe this year.
The EU border agency Frontex said on Friday that November arrivals across the Mediterranean to Italy stood at 13,740 people, more than four times the figure for last year.
Germany, Sweden and Austria, the wealthiest countries and destinations of choice, also want some sort of permanent relocation scheme to share people out more evenly.
But Poland and Hungary refuse to take in asylum-seekers, saying admitting Muslims would distort the makeup of their societies. They resist Brussels’ efforts to impose relocation quotas.
Italy has criticised easterners and threatened to block any further work on EU budgets, which normally provide billions of euros of development funds to Poland and its neighbours to allow them to catch up with their western peers.
The Council of Europe, a rights organisation, and aid group International Rescue Committee, criticised on Friday a separate Brussels proposal to resume returning some asylum-seekers to Greece.
Editing by Mark Trevelyan