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Executive Summary for April 13th

We review the latest developments related to refugee issues, including a surge of arrivals in Italy, Austria’s construction of a fence on its border with Italy to thwart “migrants,” and the E.U.’s new two-week deadline for Greece to improve border controls.

Published on April 13, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Arrivals in Sicily Continue to Surge With Another 4,000 Rescued in 48 Hours

Some 4,000 migrants have been rescued from boats in the Strait of Sicily between Tunisia and Italy in the past two days, Italy’s coastguard said, according to AFP reports.

The sharp drop in arrivals from Turkey in Greece has coincided with an increase in arrivals in Italy. Warm weather and calm seas, coupled with the closing down of other routes may have resulted in the latest rebound of people opting for the central Mediterranean crossings.

Observers and humanitarian groups say it is too early to predict whether the E.U.–Turkey deal has indeed led to a diversion in the routes that migrants and asylum seekers are taking.

On Tuesday, 2,154 migrants were rescued, on top of the 1,850 carried to safety on Monday, the Italian coastguard said.

A spokesman for the Libyan navy said that on Tuesday the country’s coastguard intercepted 649 migrants aboard six inflatable boats off Sabratha, near the country’s border with Tunisia.

Austria’s New Fence at Brenner Pass Ignores Schengen Open Border Policy

In anticipation of increased arrivals in Italy over the summer months, especially with the Balkan route and Turkey–Greece crossings becoming difficult, Austria is erecting a fence to thwart asylum seekers at its border with Italy according to latest media reports.

“The structure will be 250 metres [820ft] long and will cover both the motorway and the main road,” Helmut Tomac, head of police in the southern Austrian state of Tyrol, said to Italian newspaper La Stampa.

Humanitarian agencies are calling this fence one of the most significant deterrence measures in recent times.

“This is probably the most fundamental change in recent decades,” Michael Landau, head of the Catholic NGO Caritas, told reporters. “A change which means Austria virtually takes leave of the right to asylum,” he added.

In addition to the barrier, a new registration center will also be built on the Austrian side of the border, while police will conduct checks of passing vehicles and people as early as May.

Italy’s foreign and interior ministers sent a joint letter to the European migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos urging him to “verify with extreme urgency” whether the move would violate Europe’s Schengen Agreement on open borders.

Italy’s European affairs minister Sandro Gozi said in a statement: “It is not by erecting improvised walls that we will resolve problems … Vienna should reconsider this decision, which runs counter both to the spirit and the letter of European rules (and) the friendship that links Italy and Austria.”

E.U. Commission Demands Better Border Control From Greece

Concerned by the shortages of resources and staff to register asylum seekers’ fingerprints in Greece, the European Commission has spelled out several recommendations – including joint patrols with the E.U.’s border agency, Frontex, on the Macedonian border – and set a deadline of two weeks for Greece to come up with new plans for policing the E.U.’s border.

In early March, the E.U. set out 50 recommendations for Greece to remedy deficiencies in the management of the external border of the Schengen area.

Tuesday’s report is the first assessment of measures taken by Greece, according to the E.U. Observer.

The Commission has also highlighted the weak coastal surveillance system and lack of clarity over which authorities are responsible for different aspects of the border patrol and registration process.

Germany and other E.U. states introduced temporary border checks inside the Schengen area, blaming Athens for failing to control its frontiers amid a mass influx of migrants and refugees arriving on Greek Aegean islands from Turkey.

“The Commission requests that Greece provide the additional elements and clarifications by 26 April and offers its continuous support to Greece,” the E.U. executive’s statement said.

The same statement also said that Greece had made “significant progress” on the border but that “further improvements” were needed, including more rapid use of E.U. funds provided to help the country manage the flow of people.

If Brussels decides that Greece is unable to effectively control its borders, it could allow for the extension of border checks for up to two years.

Meanwhile, the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras asked for additional support, including staff members to expedite returns under the current E.U.–Turkey deal. Greece, a small nation of 11 million, is not currently equipped to deal with such a large volume of asylum seekers and is desperate for concerted help from E.U. member states.

Recommended Reads:

Top image: Piles of life jackets used by refugees and migrants to cross the Aegean sea from the Turkish coast remain stacked on the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos. (AP Photo/Santi Palacios)

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