EU declares migration crisis over as it hits out at 'fake news'

European commission combats ‘untruths’ over issue after row with Hungary’s Viktor Orbán

The European commission has declared the migration crisis over, as it sharpened its attack on “fake news” and “misinformation” about the issue.

Frans Timmermans, the European commission’s first vice-president, said: “Europe is no longer experiencing the migration crisis we lived in 2015, but structural problems remain.”

In 2018, 116,647 people were counted by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, as crossing the Mediterranean, an 89% reduction on those who made the journey in 2015, at the height of the crisis.

While the trend is not new, the commission’s latest progress report on Wednesday suggested a tougher approach to public relations, as Brussels hit out against “myths” and “untruths”.

The robust language follows angry exchanges between Brussels and the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who has turned migration into an electoral issue.

The Hungarian government last month launched a poster campaign, based on misleading claims about migration, featuring the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros.

Using unusually combative language, the commission issued a factsheet debunking 15 “myths” about migration. Top of its list is that Europe is “no longer in crisis mode” over migration, while it also took apart demagogic stereotypes that migrants carry disease or burden economies.

Brussels acknowledged “key problems in Greece” remain unresolved, with 4,000 people in overflowing, squalid camp on the island of Samos. Privately, officials are exasperated at what they see as Greece’s poor management of EU funds.

With Spain now the main entry point into the EU, the commission said one of its priorities was working with Morocco via a €140m (£120m) border control programme. So far, African coastal states have spurned the EU’s attempts to take part in policies that would give them greater responsibility to process asylum claims of people rescued at sea.

The commission also sought to counter criticism of EU policies to deter would-be migrants from leaving African countries. The EU has created a €3.9bn fund to pay for economic development and border-management projects in 27 African countries. Rejecting claims that these funds go to authoritarian regimes, the EU said almost 90% of the money went to NGOs or UN agencies.

Campaign groups have accused the EU of turning a blind eye to suffering of migrants in detention centres, where they face threats of violence.

Under EU policy, people rescued at sea by European boats cannot be returned to Libya. The EU trains the Libyan coastguard, which intercepts and returns migrants to the war-torn country, a practice described as “inhuman” by the UN high commissioner for human rights.

In its statement, the commission said it was “working tirelessly to evacuate migrants from Libya” and stopping arbitrary detention was a priority. About 37,000 people had received help from the UNHCR and the UN’s International Organisation for Migration to leave Libya and return to their country of origin.

The decline in migrant arrivals comes amid stalemate inside the EU on a package of laws to overhaul the European asylum system. EU interior ministers meeting in Brussels on Thursday are expected to formally conclude there will be no deal on a package of seven asylum laws before the European elections, a reality already obvious to officials and politicians working on these laws.

While five of seven laws have been agreed, the EU remains stymied over a proposal to redistribute refugees around the bloc. Southern countries, which have borne the brunt of Mediterranean arrivals, oppose any attempt to water down obligations on other member states to help. Central and eastern European counties are meanwhile determined not to take refugees under an EU-quota system.

EU members have also been unable to agree a regulation to harmonise asylum procedures across the bloc. “Tomorrow will be the official day, when we prove there will be no agreement on these migration proposals,” an EU diplomat said.

The failure to reach agreement could mean a rethink of the asylum reform proposals under a newly-appointed European commission and newly-elected European parliament.


Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

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