Koenders: we must work together with Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan

On Thursday evening, foreign minister Bert Koenders was in Luxembourg to attend a meeting between EU member states and non-EU countries to discuss the current refugee crisis. ‘Working with non-EU countries that are receiving large numbers of refugees is an essential part of solving the refugee crisis. This evening we reached cooperation agreements with Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, as well as many Balkan countries.’

The minister believes it is crucial for EU member states to work together with these transit countries to address the problem. ‘Isolated solutions are not effective,’ he remarked. ‘This crisis demands a joint approach, which the countries present at this evening’s meeting support.’

Agreements have been made on issues like boosting reception and registration capacity, border control, tackling human trafficking and long-term prospects for refugees. ‘There must be economic opportunities in the region itself,’ said the minister. ‘Having our partner countries recognise this and discuss refugees’ access to the job market is an important step forward.’

Mr Koenders feels the agreements represent a ‘new deal’ with the countries concerned. ‘This approach will be more effective than just passing the problem off from one country to another. It’s a complex humanitarian crisis that requires strong cooperation between all the countries involved.’

Every day, countries in the western Balkans have to deal with large numbers of migrants en route to Western Europe. In their final statement, the meeting’s participants pledged to help these countries improve reception facilities and border control. At the same time, they recognised the need to tackle the root causes of the problem. They reiterated their support for a political solution to the conflict in Syria and for the role played by the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura.

Mr Koenders is aware that the problem cannot be brought under control overnight. ‘It requires time, patience and courage to reach effective solutions, but we’re on the right track.’