EU official seeks aid to keep migrants in Turkey

Migrants sit in a boat during a rescue operation by Italian navy off the coast of the south of the Italian island of Sicily.

Gevgelija (Macedonia) (AFP) – A senior EU official on Saturday spelt out plans to encourage people fleeing war in Syria to stay in bordering countries rather than join the flow of migrants to Europe.

In a visit to a migrant reception centre on the Macedonian border, European Commissioner Johannes Hahn said the European Union faced several tasks.

It must help EU countries on the frontline in the refugee crisis and also “strengthen our external borders,” he said.

“But I would say it’s more important to help the countries in the region to accommodate the situation,” Hahn said.

Hahn, in charge of enlargement at the EU executive, gave the rationale behind Commission plans to reallocate EU support earmarked for Turkey as part of this initiative.

“This is the reason why I proposed a few days ago to reallocate the money provided to Turkey. We are talking about up to one billion euros” ($1.13 billion), Hahn said.

The money will “help Turkey to deal with this challenge and (give) people (a) perspective to stay in the region in order to return back into their home region, home towns, as soon as this is possible,” said Hahn.

Syria’s four-year war has forced more than four million people to flee their country.

Nearly half have sought shelter in Turkey, while more than a million are now living in Lebanon and nearly 630,000 in Jordan.

The UN’s World Food Programme has said severe underfunding has forced it to halve its food assistance to 1.3 million of the refugees.

Most of them are now living on the equivalent of 50 US cents (44 euro cents) per day.

It has cut out food assistance altogether to 229,000 refugees in Jordan and 131,000 in Lebanon.

French President Francois Hollande last week said he would urge a special EU summit next Wednesday to “work with Turkey” to encourage Syrian refugees to stay on its soil until the war ends.

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