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European Interior Ministers Hold Meeting On Migrant Crisis


Hungary isn't the only European Union country moving to control borders which before now had been open. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has been keeping track of that and of a meeting in Brussels of the EU's 28 interior ministers to hammer out a common strategy. We reached her in Berlin, and I asked her first what steps other countries are taking along their borders.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Germany started by doing this Sunday night. What they ended up doing was instituting passport checks. This was on the Austrian border, and it's something they haven't done in a while. And that was quickly followed by Austria and Slovakia instituting their own passport checks and the Netherlands doing spot checks.

And these controls threaten to end two decades of passport-free travel in this area, or that's the fear that many have. But Hungary's actions were arguably the harshest. It closed the last spot along its border with Serbia, where migrants were able to bypass the new razor-wire border fence. And then as of midnight Hungarian time on Monday, a new law takes effect that will send human smugglers to prison and either jail or deport migrants who try to cut through the fence.

CORNISH: Now, why did all this happen right before the meeting in Brussels?

NELSON: Well, for Germany, there were a couple of reasons. One was to give a breather to its cities and states that have been receiving tens of thousands of refugees and migrants in a very short span of time. And at the same time, the government in Berlin was trying to put pressure on other EU countries to break the logjam and come up with some sort of joint plan because there's been such disagreement.

As the interior minister Thomas de Maiziere said, Germany wasn't inclined to solve the problem of migrants for Europe just by default. But then there were others in Eastern Europe - other countries that were adamant to dissuade migrants from showing up in the first place.

CORNISH: Is there a sense that the tactic worked in persuading the EU members to agree to a common strategy?

NELSON: Well, from the time that the ministers were going into the meeting earlier today, it was clear that it had not worked. You had the Slovakian interior minister, for example, talking about how quotas don't solve problems. Although, his country was proposing taking in 500 refugees from Austria to give them some relief. And then meanwhile, on the other side, you had the Irish interior minister and others who support quotas saying it was disappointing that they couldn't come to any sort of meaningful agreement.

CORNISH: At this point, have the interior ministers actually agreed to anything specific?

NELSON: Well, it was announced tonight that they agreed to take 40,000 refugees from Greece and Italy. And it's important to note that this plan was something that already had been decided in May, so this was sort of seen as a rubberstamp. But even with this, certain member states have not yet agreed to accept the number of refugees allocated to them under this plan.

Unfortunately, what didn't happen, according to the European Commission officials who held a press conference, is an agreement on a plan to relocate 120,000 additional refugees. But that's not really surprising given the fierce opposition by some countries, especially in Eastern Europe. Also, there's just concern that perhaps these people are not refugees and there need to be more steps to ensure that they, in fact, are.

One of the things that's being discussed is giving $6,750 or the equivalent thereof per refugee to the countries that agree to take them in, and then countries that don't take any would have to pay into a fund. But critics say that just allows countries to sort of pay their way out of their responsibilities, which is not acceptable to many, especially those taking in refugees at the moment. The group is also working on steps to speed up deportations.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson on the efforts to forge a unified response to Europe's migrant crisis. Soraya, thank you.

NELSON: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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