EU warns of surge in asylum seeker arrivals

The European Commission said 15,457 people had arrived via Turkey on Greece's sea and land borders through March, nine times higher than the same period last year.

The EU warned Wednesday that asylum seeker arrivals have surged this year and called on member countries to act urgently on pledges of support for the bloc’s border force.

The European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, said 15,457 people had arrived via Turkey on Greece’s sea and land borders through March, nine times higher than the same period last year.

But it said the numbers of Syrians and others are still “drastically lower” than before a cooperation deal with Turkey in 2016, which Brussels said is still working despite diplomatic tensions with Ankara.

“In the last years, important progress has been made both within the EU and with our partner countries,” EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said.

He said 6,623 people had arrived in Spain in the first three months of the year, up 22 percent over last year, though numbers from Libya to Italy had sharply declined.

The commission said the EU border agency is supporting national border guards with around 1,500 personnel along all migratory routes.

It said the agency is ready to bolster its presence on the Greek-Turkish land border and offered to triple deployments at Greece’s land borders with Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, where increases have occurred recently.

The commission said it is negotiating deals with non-EU western Balkan countries to allow the agency to help them manage their borders.

However, it warned the agency was only meeting less than half of its operational needs because of “persistent and significant gaps in personnel and equipment.”

For the bloc’s 2021-2027 budget, the commission has proposed significant funding increases for border management and to boost the border force to 10,000 personnel.

The commission said the numbers of Africans and others arriving from Libya, the jumping board to Italy, has fallen by 77 percent over the same period last year.

Like Turkey, the EU struck an aid-for-cooperation deal with Libya.

Europe has been coping with its worst migration crisis since World War II, but has sharply cut numbers since its 2015 peak when 1.2 million arrived in the bloc.

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