European home affairs and justice ministers began a two-day crisis meeting Monday to discuss creating a European Union border security force and other possible solutions to the region’s growing refugee crisis, according to an Associated Press report. Despite going against the principles of the 28-country bloc’s open borders policy, several countries had already shut borders to undocumented refugees, hoping to alleviate the economic strain placed on each E.U. country’s domestic infrastructure by the arrival of more than 1.5 million refugees over the last year from North Africa and the Middle East.
“We have no more than two months to get things under control,” said Donald Tusk, President of the European Parliament said, in his latest report on the refugee crisis. “The statistics over the Christmas period were not encouraging, with over 2,000 arrivals to the EU per day, according to Frontex. The March European Council will be the last moment to see if our strategy works. If it doesn’t, we will face grave consequences, such as the collapse of Schengen.”
Civil war and general unrest in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and economic strife in North Africa are the main contributors to the crisis that has tested Europe’s liberal asylum and border policies over the last 18 months.
As the Netherlands began its six month stint as the new leaders of the E.U. earlier this month, little has been done to confront how to deal with the refugees, except some countries like Hungary erecting large border fences to keep them out. However, most refugees are not trying to stay in Eastern Europe, preferring instead to make the longer journey to Germany or Scandinavia where the refugee-friendly governments offer almost automatic asylum.
But the very open border policy that allowed immigrants to travel freely inside European borders after arriving by boat to Italy, Greece and by land through Turkey is slowly being seen as a hindrance to Europe, according to Tusk.
“All leaders acknowledge that protecting Schengen requires difficult decisions. In this context, we agreed to rapidly examine the European Commission’s proposal to strengthen the EU’s external borders, including the idea of the European Border Guard,” said Tusk. ” This is a priority for the Dutch presidency and we should have political agreement in the Council by June.”