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EU border concerns mount before migrant summit

Concerns over the effectiveness of Europe's border controls and migrant policy are mounting just days ahead of a crucial meeting between European and Middle Eastern ministers.

Speaking to European Union (EU) Parliament Tuesday, European Council President Donald Tusk renewed calls for stricter border protection, saying weak borders themselves are acting like "a magnet," attracting refugees from across the Middle East and Africa.

"Europe without its external borders will become a breeding ground for fear in each and every one of us. And this will lead us, sooner than later, to a political catastrophe," Tusk said.

A woman stands behind a gate as she waits with other migrants and refugees to enter a registration camp, after crossing the Greek-Macedonia border.
ROBERT ATANASOVSKI | AFP | Getty Images
A woman stands behind a gate as she waits with other migrants and refugees to enter a registration camp, after crossing the Greek-Macedonia border.

His comments come ahead of a high-level conference Thursday between EU ministers and their counterparts from Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan — countries that are serving as the first port of call for many refugees fleeing war-torn Syria — as well as ministers from Western Balkan states, where most migrants are passing through to reach Europe.

Representatives will consider increased support to Middle Eastern countries currently hosting the highest proportion of Syrian refugees, ramping up cooperation to combat human trafficking, and help transit countries register migrants more efficiently. Over 470,000 migrants have arrived in Greece and Italy this year alone.

As part of bolstering Europe's borders, Frontex — the EU's border security agency — is nearly doubling staff deployed in and around Greece and Italy, both primary entry points for migrants looking to enter the EU.


The move may calm concerns over lax security and help discredit claims that migrants are posing as Syrians in order to clinch refugee status and remain in Europe. A significant proportion of migrants are thought to have fled war-torn Syria, or areas threatened by the influx of radical Islamic groups like ISIS.

Frontex hopes to recruit the extra staff by October 16 and deploy them as soon as possible.

Tusk went on to single out German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande for failing to commit to protecting the bloc. Both leaders have taken a relatively soft stance on border controls, instead focusing on refugee support programs and advocating plans for equitable distribution of migrants across EU member states.

However, Merkel made headlines this weekend when she said border controls were a priority in dealing with the influx of refugees and migrants trying to settle in the E.U.

"Of course need to, above all, protect our external borders across Europe — and protect them together—so that immigration to Europe is orderly," Merkel said in a video podcast released Saturday, according to a Reuters translation.

"It also means we must take on more responsibility for countries where the causes for people to flee are, or where there are a lot of refugees, such as in Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey," Merkel added.