Brussels – EU countries are floating new ideas to further curb migrant arrivals and overcome splits over how to share responsibility for those who land on Europe’s shores.
The following are some of the proposals being debated:
– Stemming migration flows –
The one and only thing on which EU countries agree is the need to reduce the number of people risking their lives at sea to reach Europe.
In 2016, the bloc reached a multi-billion-euro deal with Turkey to take back migrants who cross by boat to Greece. From an estimated 850,000 in 2015, the number who landed in Greece fell to 30,000 in 2017 — largely as a result of the accord.
Last year, Rome reached a similar deal with Libya’s coastguard that significantly cut the flow of African migrants across the central Mediterranean to Italy, from 119,000 in 2017 to around 14,000 so far this year.
EU members now want to go further, using a carrot-and-stick approach to get African countries to keep their young people home and take back those who reach Europe but fail to qualify for asylum.
The EU also wants to boost its border patrol force, Frontex, taking it from 1,200 staff at present to 10,000.
– Disembarkation platforms –
Denmark and Austria have floated the idea of “disembarkation platforms” outside the EU, where people rescued at sea would be taken to determine whether the qualify for asylum or and separated into asylum-seekers and so-called economic migrants.
Tunisia has been cited among the countries that could host such a platform, which would send a message that those who board boats for Europe are not assured of reaching its shores.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, is working on the proposal but it is still unclear as to how it might work.
Sending asylum seekers to a third country would be a violation of international humanitarian law.
– Secondary migration –
The movement of migrants across EU borders has caused tensions within the bloc, with right-wingers in some wealthy destination countries like Germany, France and Sweden accusing them of “asylum shopping”.
Germany’s hardline interior minister has vowed to order border police to turn back migrants, defying Chancellor Angela Merkel who opposes unilateral approaches as un-European.
She is seeking agreements with individual EU countries instead on taking them back.
In a draft statement ahead of Sunday’s migration mini-summit the European Commission proposed steps to prevent applicants “absconding” from frontline countries.
The statement was later withdrawn, however, after Italy complained that it would continue to bear the brunt of the arrivals.
– ‘Closed’ migrant centres –
France and Spain have proposed creating “closed” centres in Europe where migrants would remain while their asylum claims are processed — and from which they could be more easily returned if unsuccessful.
Paris has suggested that EU countries could pour resources into the centres, to ensure a quick turnaround.
Italy however refuses to keep migrants behind closed doors, saying it does not want to become “a refugee camp for all of Europe.”
The global refugee crisis
– Asylum law and quotas –
Italy is calling for the so-called Dublin rules, which say that asylum claims must be processed in the country of arrival, to be jettisoned.
The EU has proposed redistributing asylum-seekers across member countries in times of crisis in order to ease the pressure on coastal states like Italy and Greece.
Italy, Spain, Greece and Bulgaria want a permanent refugee redistribution mechanism.
The EU had aimed to agree on new asylum rules by the end of June but hopes for a breakthrough have dwindled.
Germany and France are now pushing for bilateral and trilateral agreements instead.
The lack of consensus comes after a majority of EU countries set temporary quotas in 2015 to relocate 160,000 Syrian and other asylum seekers from Italy and Greece.
In the end, only around 34,000 were relocated under the scheme as asylum seekers made their own way to other EU destinations amid foot dragging over the scheme and outright opposition from eastern EU member states.
The uncontrolled movements caused chaos and prompted countries in the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone to restore border checks, threatening the bloc’s signature achievement of allowing free movement.
Italy migration in 3 graphics