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#Sweden defends reintroducing temporary border controls amid influx of refugees from Africa and Middle East

By Tajuddin
Nov 12th, 2015
From left, Prime Minister Juha Sipila of Finland, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel of Luxembourg, and Prime Minister Stefan Lofven of Sweden at the Valletta summit meeting on migration in Malta on Thursday. Credit Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters

From left, Prime Minister Juha Sipila of Finland, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel of Luxembourg, and Prime Minister Stefan Lofven of Sweden at the Valletta summit meeting on migration in Malta on Thursday. Credit Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters

Valletta, Malta ( Agencies + DIPLOMAT.SO) — Sweden on Thursday defended its decision to reintroduce border controls as European Union leaders signed an aid agreement worth 1.8 billion euros with African nations intended to stem the influx of migrants.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven of Sweden framed the issue as a temporary measure to maintain order, but the new controls represent another blow to a flagship European Union policy of allowing free movement of people across most of the bloc’s internal borders.

The Continent is contending with the most serious migration crisis since World War II, and the move by Sweden highlights a shifting dynamic.

Richer nations in the north that were open to the newcomers are now warning that their resources are limited, even as nations closer to European entry points erect physical barriers along their borders, European Union member states fail to agree on a coherent plan to deal with the crisis, and the bloc struggles to persuade African countries and Turkey to stop migrants from trying to reach Europe in the first place.

The announcement from Sweden that it would reintroduce border controls came late on Wednesday, after a request from Stockholm this month for other concessions, already granted to Italy and Greece, that would allow the relocation of migrants to other European countries. European Union authorities are still reviewing that request.

Germany has warned it may not be able to accept some migrants, even from Syria, where a four-year war has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and said it would take a stricter approach to admitting relatives of refugees.

Slovenia on Wednesday began erecting a razor-wire fence along its border with Croatia, and Finland said earlier in the week that it was no longer able to provide new arrivals with “as high-quality reception services as before.”

Finland, warning that it was “prepared to resort to tent and container accommodation,” also cautioned that there were not enough qualified nongovernmental organizations and companies to operate fully fledged reception centers for migrants.

With European countries increasingly divided over how to address the influx, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, warned on Thursday that passport-free travel through most of Europe across the so-called Schengen area could soon be curtailed.

“The recent developments in Germany, in Sweden, in Slovenia and in other countries all show with utmost clarity the huge pressure member states are facing,” Mr. Tusk said at a news conference in Valletta, Malta, on Thursday, before a meeting of most of the European Union’s 28 leaders. “I have no doubt without effective control of our external borders, the Schengen rules will not survive.”

That gathering follows a two-day summit meeting with African leaders, who agreed to a deal that included the aid agreement, worth roughly $1.93 billion, aimed at addressing the root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa.

Macky Sall, the president of Senegal, said at the news conference that he was pleased with the outcome of the summit meeting because it addressed a “very controversial and complex subject.” But Mr. Sall said the deal could still “be improved” and the fund “more generously financed.”

There is widespread skepticism that the African plan can meet the goal of reducing the numbers of refugees heading for Germany, Scandinavia and other destinations, because it does not directly address the huge numbers of migrants coming from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

Many migrants are now coming through Turkey and the western Balkans rather than across the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa.

Speaking earlier in the day, Mr. Lofven said the Swedish authorities had concluded that the large number of migrants meant his country could no longer guarantee the security and control of its borders.

“This is not a fence,” Mr. Lofven told reporters on the margins of the summit meeting. “We need to make sure that we have control.”

Mr. Lofven said Sweden had accepted more refugees on a per-capita basis than any other European country, and he said that the border controls were in conformity with European Union rules.

The move was not necessarily a sign that the open-border system in Europe had permanently broken down, he said, but, “we need another system — that is obvious.”

“External borders of the European Union are not yet at all under control so probably, temporarily, for some countries, it is unavoidable,” President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania told reporters at the summit meeting, referring to decisions across Europe to tighten borders.

Ms. Grybauskaite said the Swedish decision would be discussed Thursday afternoon, when European Union leaders gather for their summit meeting. But the main topic of discussion on Thursday was expected to be reaching an accord with Turkey aimed at curbing migration across its borders.

A far-reaching accord with the government in Ankara is widely seen as vital, but European leaders have struggled to reach an agreement with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mr. Erdogan has indicated his desire for greater concessions in areas like relaxed visa rules for Turks traveling to Europe and a speedier path to Turkey’s eventual membership of the European Union.

European leaders have also failed to gain traction with their most high-profile effort to tackle the crisis — agreements reached during the summer to relocate 160,000 refugees throughout the Continent. So far, only about 150 refugees have been relocated, with tiny Luxembourg taking the majority of them.

“Migrants really only want to reach four or five countries and, among those, mainly Germany and Sweden,” said Martijn Pluim of the International Center for Migration Policy Development, an international organization based in Vienna.

Mr. Pluim said resettling migrants directly from the Middle East and Africa would be a more manageable policy than waiting for them to reach Europe. That, he said, would reduce smuggling and loss of life, and make the distribution of migrants across Europe more orderly.

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