AMSTERDAM, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said Eastern European countries owe it to their partners to do more to stem the inflow of migrants into the European Union, and demanded a fairer distribution of asylum seekers among the bloc’s members.
His comments, made after a meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk, echo those of other leaders of wealthy Western European countries including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who worry that large-scale immigration will boost support for the xenophobic far-right.
“It cannot be that countries like Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany get the lion’s share of asylum seekers,” Rutte told public television on Saturday, the day before a Brussels summit to discuss Europe’s migrant crisis.
“Eastern Europe has done too little to resist the refugee stream,” he was quoted by public television as saying. “We have invested a huge amount in them, and now they are doing too little.”
He said the Netherlands, which assumes the EU’s rotating presidency from Jan. 1, was prepared to provide more support to member states that were having difficulties securing their external frontiers.
The EU’s poorer, eastern members have resisted calls for refugees to be divided between the bloc’s 28 members. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has erected a fence along his country’s southern frontier, effectively handing the problem on to neighbouring Croatia and Slovenia.
Almost all the migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa are entering the EU via its poorer members in south-eastern Europe.
But Tusk, a former Polish Prime Minister, appeared to side with his Eastern European colleagues, telling reporters that defending the continent’s borders was the most important of the tasks facing the EU.
“No task is more important for the moderate centrist political camp than the re-establishment of Europe’s external borders,” said Tusk, who was in The Hague for a congress of Rutte’s Liberal party, an ally of Tusk’s Civic Platform..
“Only then will we be able to stop the radicals in their march to power,” he added, an apparent reference to far-right, anti-immigration parties that are rising in polls across Europe. In the Netherlands, the anti-Islam Freedom Party of populist Geert Wilders, is topping polls with its highest-ever ratings.
Merkel has said Germany must prepare to receive as many as 800,000 refugees this year, despite opposition from some of her governmental allies. (Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Catherine Evans)