BRUSSELS, Oct 1, (Agencies): European Union countries can imprison migrants who re-enter their territory after being expelled, the EU’s top court ruled on Thursday in a judgment likely to be closely watched across the continent as it struggles to cope with a migration crisis.
The European Court of Justice was considering the case of an Albanian national who was deported from Italy in 2012 but returned to the country, in breach of a three-year entry ban. Judges at the Luxembourg-based court ruled that Italian legislation prescribing a one- to four-year jail term for such an offence was in line with EU law. More than half a million migrants have entered the European Union this year. Some are eligible to claim asylum, for example those fleeing Syria’s civil war. Others, notably from the western Balkans, are generally considered economic migrants who must return home.
The UN refugee agency expects at least 1.4 million refugees to flee to Europe across the Mediterranean this year and next, according to a document seen by Reuters on Thursday, a sharp rise from initial estimates of 850,000. “UNHCR is planning for up to 700,000 people seeking safety and international protection in Europe in 2015,” reads the document, a revision to the agency’s existing appeal for funds. “… It is possible that there could be even greater numbers of arrivals in 2016, however, planning is based for the moment on similar figures to 2015.”
UNHCR launched the appeal on Sept. 8 with preliminary plans for 400,000 refugee arrivals in 2015 and 450,000 in 2016. But the 2015 figure was surpassed within days of its publication, and by Sept 28, 520,957 had arrived. The revised appeal totals $128 million, a sharp increase from the initial appeal for $30.5 million, and UNHCR asked donors to allow their funds to be allocated flexibly because of the “very volatile operational context”. The appeal is also broadened to include transit countries in the Middle East and North Africa, to enable refugees to get help from UNHCR at an earlier stage of their journey. Although the vast majority of recent arrivals have travelled from Turkey through Greece, Macedonia and Serbia, possible alternative routes mapped out by UNHCR include the sea route from Turkey to Italy, from Greece through Albania to Montenegro or Italy, and from Montenegro by boat to Croatia. Most are fleeing the Syrian civil war, with many others seeking to escape conflict or poverty in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa or elsewhere. The revised appeal covers plans to scale up the emergency response to protect and give aid to the higher numbers of refugees, but a further revision may be published later in the year to reflect additional needs for European contingency planning, the document said. Germany took in more than 200,000 migrants in September, politicians said on Thursday, a new record which is likely to fuel the debate about how many newcomers Europe’s most populous country can absorb. Germany’s mainstream parties initially backed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s warm welcome for refugees but the mood has turned more critical, with practical worries about how to feed and house so many people setting the tone. “In September alone, we registered more refugees than for the whole of last year,” Stephan Mayer, a lawmaker from the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) party, told parliament, putting the figure at over 200,000.
His CSU colleague Joachim Herrmann, the Bavarian interior minister, said up to 280,000 may have entered German territory last month. The CSU is the sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), who rule in coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD). Germany expects as many as 800,000 migrants to come to the country this year alone — around 1 percent of the current population — and Bavaria in the south of the country is where many of them are crossing the border. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told parliament on Thursday that there was a limit to how many migrants Europe can accept, but he did not set a figure on it.
Germany was “trying damned hard” to distribute the migrants around the country and find them accommodation, he said. Meanwhile, Hungary warned Wednesday that Europe’s migrant crisis was threatening the continent’s stability, at a UN meeting called to agree on a global response to the largest refugee exodus since World War II. UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon opened the meeting of some 70 countries with an appeal to keep borders open, combat xenophobia and integrate refugees and migrants. “The future does not belong to those who seek to build walls or exploit fears,” said the UN chief. Leaders gathered at the United Nations on the same day as Greek authorities recovered the bodies of a migrant woman and a child who drowned when their dinghy capsized in the Aegean, the latest reminder of the tragedy.
Taking a hard line on the migration crisis, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Europe cannot cope and called on Ban to launch negotiations on setting global quotas for accepting migrants. “Let me be clear: Europe will not be able to carry this burden on our own,” Orban said. “If there is no change in the current trends, Europe will be destabilized.” Hungary has shut down its border with Serbia and is considering closing down its frontier with Croatia, building a razor wire fence to keep out the tens of thousands of people on the move.