Migration issues compounding at borders in Europe

Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are not accepting refugees despite a European Union agreement to help ease the burden on Italy and Greece.

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Across Europe, the flood of migrants and refugees continues to raise challenges for political leaders, communities and aid groups alike.

Last year, in the northern French town of Calais, authorities demolished a makeshift camp known as The Jungle.

The residents were transferred to various reception centres across France, where they were supposed to be prepared for seeking asylum.

But now, with little movement, hundreds have returned to Calais, hoping instead to cross the English Channel to their desired destination of Britain, and it is fuelling more tension.

French charities have accused police of using excessive force against migrants and refugees and preventing aid groups from distributing meals.

A volunteer for the Calais-based Refugee Community Kitchen, Jacob Strauss, says the closure of The Jungle has presented major obstacles.

“It made distribution of food a lot more difficult. Obviously, it’s the best for everyone if they have the stability of the place where they can live and an area that they can inhabit. Now, they don’t have that. We have to find spaces to meet them and feed them. We’ve had lots of problems with the local authorities, who have made it very clear they don’t want us to use public spaces for this.”

Further east on Hungary’s southern border, it is a different dilemma for migrants and refugees behind razor wire.

About 7,000 are stuck in limbo because of new laws keeping them in detention camps until their asylum requests are processed.

The so-called “container” camps are heavily fortified, and people can only leave towards the country they have come from — Serbia.

Refugee ambassador Tomas Bocek says, even inside, residents can only move around to different sectors if they need to see a doctor.

“This is … let’s say they call it ‘camps,’ but I would say that, according to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, this is rather a deprivation of liberty. And we have had recent cases already that said it. When you have deprivation of liberty, in order not to have arbitrary detention, you have to meet certain conditions. And these conditions, unfortunately, are not met here because the Hungarian authorities don’t consider this settlement as detention.”

Mr Bocek says those inside are dispirited.

“You know, they don’t understand why they are there, why they are in a closed camp — or they call it ‘prison’ — why they ended up in this prison, how they call it. And the question that everybody asked me is, ‘So, when will we get out?'”

Hungary’s hard line on migrants and refugees, along with Poland’s and the Czech Republic’s, has prompted the European Commission to launch legal action.

The commission accuses them of failing to meet their European Union obligations.

Fewer than 21,000 people have been relocated from Italy and Greece, a small fraction of the 160,000 the plan was supposed to involve.

Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos says the refusal by the three countries is not fair on other member states that are shouldering the burden.

“I sincerely hope that these member states can still reconsider their position and contribute fairly. I remind you that the decision that was made in Luxembourg one year and a half ago is a decision that we took all together, and it is mandatory. So, time was consumed, and time has expired. Let’s hope that not only reason, but also the European spirit, will prevail.”

Facing possible financial penalties, the three countries have defended their stance, citing security concerns after a series of major attacks in Western Europe over the past two years.

Their governments are also hoping that confronting the EU powers in Brussels will win them credit from eurosceptic voters back home.

With a lengthy legal and political fight likely, those seeking refuge are set to keep on waiting.