European Union governments agreed on Thursday to step up deportations of illegal immigrants and discussed creating an EU border force, among measures to cope with hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria’s civil war.
Underlining the havoc brought by chaotic mass treks across Europe’s open borders over recent months, the German state of Bavaria threatened to break ranks with Berlin and send back to Austria migrants who cross its Alpine frontier.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose welcome for refugees has taken a toll on her ratings, insists she will not shut the door. Her deputy said there could be no pulling up of “drawbridges.” Austria’s interior minister warned of possible border “riots.”
The dispute between Vienna and one of Germany’s richest regions, which says over 200,000 migrants entered from Austria in a month, helps explain Merkel’s vocal support this week for the expulsion of those not fleeing for their lives and for tighter controls on who enters Europe across the Mediterranean.
A policy document approved by EU interior ministers meeting in Luxembourg called on states to ensure more of those ordered to leave should actually go. Some 470,000 expulsion orders were made last year but fewer than 40 percent of them were enforced.
Later, interior ministers were joined by foreign ministers from the EU, the Balkan states, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon to review broader efforts to stem the flow of refugees and economic migrants from the Middle East, through Greece and the Balkans.
“It’s joining forces to tackle an issue that is going to be very difficult to solve,” said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini of a meeting that produced a declaration pledging more EU aid for neighboring states to help cope with refugees.