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EU Ministers Back Emergency System to Suspend Visa-Free Travel

  • Lisa Bryant

FILE - A Belarussian border guard checks a tourist's passport at a border crossing with Poland, near the village of Pererov, southwest of Minsk, March 31, 2015.

FILE - A Belarussian border guard checks a tourist's passport at a border crossing with Poland, near the village of Pererov, southwest of Minsk, March 31, 2015.

European Union ministers meeting in Brussels have agreed on a mechanism aimed at suspending visa-free travel for foreign nationals abusing the privilege and approved funds to help Greece cope with Europe's migrant crisis.

The action would essentially make it easier and faster for EU members to suspend visa waivers granted to foreign nationals under certain conditions — such as, if large numbers stay illegally.

Dutch migration minister Klaas Dijkhoff, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, hailed the agreement, which still needs to be passed by the European parliament.

“The new mechanism offers more grounds to suspend, like readmission and asylum claims, and it also contains a permanent monitoring system to ensure that countries continue to fulfill the criteria for visa freedom," he said. "And it's considerably faster because the threshold to act is much lower.”

Turkey is among the top candidates for the visa waiver under a deal struck this year to help stop the influx of migrants heading to Europe. Ankara, however, must fulfill dozens of conditions before its nationals can have that visa-free status.

The EU is also working to lift sanctions on other countries like Kovoso, Georgia and Ukraine. U.S. citizens are among those who enjoy visa-free travel to Europe.

The EU's border agency, Frontex, reported a sharp drop in migrants arriving in Europe last month — proof it says that the deal with Turkey is working. Frontex sees Europe sending back illegal migrants arriving on its shores from Turkey while accepting thousands of Syrian refugees.

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos faulted member states for failing to take in more asylum seekers from Greece and Italy, saying fewer than 1,600 have been resettled. The block on Friday approved about $62 million to help improve conditions for hosting migrants and refugees in Greece.

“To those who think there’s some kind of Plan B, let me be very clear: there is not," he said. "Relocation needs to happen and urgently.“

Meanwhile, some humanitarian groups suggest the drop of Syrian refugees and other asylum seekers to Europe simply means they are taking more dangerous routes instead.

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