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EU states pledge to move faster on migrant crisis

Brussels: European Union interior ministers have agreed to deliver more quickly on their promises for tackling the migration crisis as their host called for averting a humanitarian catastrophe with winter approaching.

Yesterday’s extraordinary meeting came ahead of a special EU-Africa summit in Malta on Wednesday, focused on how to reduce the flow via Libya, the second-busiest migrant route after Turkey and the Balkans.

EU member states have come under fire from the commission, the 28-nation bloc’s executive, for taking too long to act on pledges to tighten external borders, set up centres to process migrants, and relocate asylum seekers from overstretched Italy and Greece.

But their interior ministers pledged to move faster on those fronts as well as accelerate the building of shelters up through the western Balkans route from Greece, where migrants land after the dangerous sea crossing from Turkey.

“The European Union has to do everything it can to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe as winter approaches,” Jean Asselborn, the Luxembourg immigration minister, told a closing press conference.

“We have to try to save people at sea… And we can’t allow people to die of cold in the Balkans,” said Asselborn, the meeting host as his country holds the rotating EU presidency.

The European Commission proposed a multi-pronged plan in May to tackle the worst migrant crisis in Europe since World War II after nearly 800 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean on their way to Italy via Libya.

The crisis worsened over the summer when hundreds of thousands more people fleeing wars, persecution and poverty mainly in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan arrived in Greece and the Balkans via Turkey.

More than 3,000 people have drowned among the nearly 800,000 who have reached Europe this year.

However, EU states have bickered for months over a joint solution, particularly over plans to relocate a total of 160,000 asylum seekers from frontline countries to other parts of the bloc.