In a statement that could potentially change the way European countries address the refugee issue, European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans claimed that new figures prove that “60 percent” of those who seek refugee status are actually “economic migrants” and not people fleeing war in their home countries.
Timmermans told Dutch TV NOS that most of this “60 percent” were people from North Africa, especially from Morocco and Tunisia. He stated that it is important to repatriate these economic migrants back to their own countries quickly so that resources can be used to help those who are genuinely fleeing war.
Europe is in the midst of its biggest migration crisis since World War Two, according to the United Nations. Several European countries are being overwhelmed by the refugee crisis and are trying to find ways to stop refugees from entering their country
On Friday, Hungary and Slovenia urged the erection of a fence along Greece's northern border, effectively sealing off the EU's passport-free Schengen area to migrants seeking to enter the bloc via the western Balkans.
"We should take a man's stance and say we expect a fence to be built on the Macedonian and Bulgarian border with Greece and stop the migrant wave," Hungary's right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban said at a joint news conference with Slovenian counterpart Miro Cerar.
Cerar warned that Europe faced "conflicts and disintegration" if the EU failed to find a solution for the migrant crisis before the flow picked up again with the onset of spring and warmer weather.
Austria on Monday stepped up pressure on frontline Greece to bolster the European Union's main external border against the flood of asylum seekers. An overwhelmed Austria has for days called on Greece to do more to reinforce its sea border with Turkey, the main gateway for the more than one million Syrian and other asylum seekers who entered the 28-nation bloc last year.
"Greece has to reinforce its resources and accept help," Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told reporters as she arrived for talks with her EU counterparts in Amsterdam. "If we do not manage to secure Europe's external border, this is the Greek-Turkish border, the European external border will move towards central Europe."
On Tuesday, Denmark's parliament adopted reforms aimed at dissuading migrants from seeking asylum by delaying family reunifications and allowing authorities to confiscate migrants' valuables.
Germany on Wednesday trimmed back its economic forecast for this year from 1.8 percent to 1.7 percent but insisted Europe's top economy remained "in good shape", with the refugee influx likely to boost short-term domestic demand.
More than one million refugees and migrants braved the seas in 2015 seeking sanctuary in Europe, nearly five times more than in the previous year, the United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in December 2015. About half of the 1,000,573 men, women and children who made the perilous journey came from war-torn Syria, while Afghans accounted for roughly a fifth. Most people who took to the water for Europe made their way on the Aegean Sea to Greece's islands from Turkey, it said. From Greece, many travel to wealthier western Europe.
With inputs from AFP