EU nations urge stronger borders to ease migration pressures

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EU nations urge stronger borders to ease migration pressures
© Provided by Associated Press A view of the four-meter-high fence on the Lithuanian-Belarusian border during a visit by participants of the Conference on Border Management near the village Kurmelionys, some 40km (24 miles) east of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Ministers from European Union nations under pressure from unauthorized border crossings asked Friday for more action to strengthen and protect the bloc’s external borders as well as for rules to return migrants to their homelands or where they started their journeys.

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Interior ministers from EU countries including Greece, Poland, Italy, Austria and France — which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency — as well as nonaligned Switzerland and Norway, attended a border security conference in Lithuania’s capital of Vilnius. European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson and the heads of European security bodies like Europol and Frontex, the EU’s border agency, also joined the talks.

EU nations urge stronger borders to ease migration pressures
© Provided by Associated Press European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson waits for the start of a Conference on Border Management at the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in Vilnius, Lithuania, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)

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The ministers described the influx of migrants as dramatic and urged swift actions, including reinforcing the EU’s borders and cracking down on people smugglers to protect both EU citizens and the lives of migrants and refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Asia who undertake hazardous journeys to reach Europe.

“We must protect our borders from aggression, and we need to protect our people,” Johansson told more than 30 officials at the conference.

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Doing that, she said, requires stopping people who are fleeing poverty and conflicts in their home countries from starting out on dangerous migration routes. But she also stressed the need for a new European system for returning migrants to their homelands if they have no permission to stay in the EU.

EU nations urge stronger borders to ease migration pressures
© Provided by Associated Press Lithuania’s Minister of the Interior Agne Bilotaite speaks during a press conference at the border with Belarus during the participants of the Conference on Border Management visit Lithuanian-Belarusian border, near the village Kurmelionys, some 40km (24 miles) east of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)

“We have to prevent people from departing on smuggling routes and to swiftly return people to the country of origin when they have no right to stay. We can do much more on returns if we establish a European return system. But I need your support to do that,” Johansson told the participants.

EU nations urge stronger borders to ease migration pressures
© Provided by Associated Press A general view of the Conference on Border Management at the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in Vilnius, Lithuania, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)

She said she will discuss the plan in more detail at a ministerial meeting in France next month.

“We can’t wait until we have desperate migrants at our borders. We need to act sooner,” Johansson said, stressing that preventative actions must respect the rights of individuals to seek asylum.

She stressed that all EU nations should “systematically check travelers against the relevant databases at entry and exit of the (bloc’s internal visa free) Schengen area,” and called for strengthening Frontex.

Notis Mitarachi, Greece’s minister of migration and asylum, which faces heavy migrant pressures on its sea borders and on its land border with Turkey, said the current system is not working.

“If people have the right to arrive in any European member state without any papers and without due process, then the whole Schengen code, the whole Schengen visa system, is meaningless,” Mitarachi said.

Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski called for amendments to EU migration laws. Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have seen a wave of migrants trying to cross illegally into the EU from Belarus, encouraged by that nation’s authoritarian president.

EU nations urge stronger borders to ease migration pressures
© Provided by Associated Press Members of the Lithuania State Border Guard Service and Lithuanian army soldiers patrol on the border with Belarus during a visit by participants of the Conference on Border Management near the village Kurmelionys, some 40km (24 miles) east of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. The conference main objective is to discuss issues of fundamental importance in an open and informal way and to find common denominators on the issues of the protection of external borders, the response to hybrid attacks and the elimination of abuses of the EU asylum system. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)

Poland is about to start building a tall, permanent metal wall with electronic surveillance systems along its land border with Belarus to prevent unauthorized entries.

EU nations urge stronger borders to ease migration pressures
© Provided by Associated Press Members of the Lithuania State Border Guard Service on the border with Belarus during a visit by participants of the Conference on Border Management near the village Kurmelionys, some 40km (24 miles) east of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. The conference main objective is to discuss issues of fundamental importance in an open and informal way and to find common denominators on the issues of the protection of external borders, the response to hybrid attacks and the elimination of abuses of the EU asylum system. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)

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Scislowska reported from Warsaw, Poland.

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Follow AP’s migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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