The European Union moved a step closer to meeting the requests of Greece and other Mediterranean countries for greater assistance in their efforts to tackle illegal immigration during a meeting of justice and interior ministers that ended yesterday.

Following the Luxembourg meeting, the EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Jacques Barrot said that he would make it a priority to work closely with countries such as Turkey and Libya so that they would be obligated to improve their border controls and honor the repatriation agreements that they have signed.

Greece has long complained about Turkey accepting only a small percentage of the thousands of illegal immigrants that arrive every year after setting off from neighboring countries.

Athens has found it increasingly difficult to deal with a growing influx of migrants and the city’s mayor, Nikitas Kaklamanis, applauded the news from Luxembourg. “I welcome this decision, which, once implemented, will significantly stem the unrestrained flow of migrants from our neighboring country into Greece,” he said.

“Elevating the mass illegal immigration problem from a national to a European matter must be accompanied by generous financial and technical assistance from the European Union to Greece to meet the needs of both the Greek Police and the Coast Guard, so that the protection of our borders, particularly at sea, brings substantial results,” added Kaklamanis.

Greece is also likely to have been encouraged by an agreement for a pilot burden-sharing scheme, under which EU member states will accept refugees from Malta on a voluntary basis. “Through this pilot project, refugees and other persons with humanitarian protection currently in Malta will have the opportunity to move to other EU member states and resettle there,” said Barrot.

He said that the EU could not force member states to accept asylum seekers but that the Commission intended to ask the countries to pledge how many migrants from Malta they would accept. Italy had been pushing for obligatory burden sharing but a number of states raised objections.

The issue will be picked up for discussion again when Sweden takes over the rotating EU presidency next month.

SOURCE

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