- The European Border Agency says the number of irregular arrivals in 2022 is the highest since 2016
- Ministers discuss the escalation of returns to countries, including Iraq
- Hard-line immigration ideas are returning to the fore
- Senior EU immigration official says no money for ‘walls and fences’
STOCKHOLM (January 26) (Reuters) – European Union ministers on Thursday sought ways to reduce irregular migration and turn away more people as arrivals surge from pandemic lows, reviving controversial ideas about border walls and asylum centers outside Europe. .
European border agency Frontex reported about 330,000 unauthorized arrivals last year, the highest level since 2016, with a sharp increase on the Western Balkans route.
“We have a massive increase in the number of illegal immigrants,” Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told talks between the EU’s 27 immigration ministers. “We have a very low rate of return and I can see we can make a lot of progress here.”
Denmark, the Netherlands and Latvia were among those calling for more pressure through visas and development aid towards the nearly 20 countries – including Iraq and Senegal – which the EU says are not cooperating to take back their citizens who do not have the right to remain in Europe. .
Only about a fifth of those people are being repatriated, with insufficient resources and coordination on the part of the EU as another hurdle, according to the bloc’s executive.
The ministerial talks come ahead of a February 9-10 summit of EU leaders who will also seek further returns, according to a draft of their joint resolution seen by Reuters.
“The general economic malaise is such that countries like Tunisia are turning from a transit country into one where the local population also wants to go,” said an EU official. “It changes things. But it’s still manageable, especially if the EU works together.”
Walls and fences
However, that is easier said than done in the bloc, where immigration is a highly sensitive political issue and member states deeply divided over how to share the task of caring for those arriving in Europe.
The issue has become toxic since more than a million people crossed the Mediterranean in 2015 in chaotic and deadly scenes that took the bloc by surprise and stoked anti-immigration sentiment.
Since then, the European Union has tightened its external borders and asylum laws. With people moving again after the COVID pandemic, debate has returned to the fore, as have some proposals that were previously dismissed as unacceptable.
Denmark has held talks with Rwanda about dealing with asylum seekers in East Africa, while others have called for EU funding to build a border fence between Bulgaria and Turkey – both ideas hitherto seen as taboo.
“We are still working to achieve this, preferably with other European countries, but as a last resort, we will only do it with cooperation between Denmark and, for example, Rwanda,” Immigration Minister Kar Dipvad said on Thursday.
Dutch Minister Eric van der Burgh said he was open to EU funding for border barriers.
The Danish Refugee Council, an NGO, said in a report Thursday about what it said were systematic pushbacks of people at the bloc’s external borders, a violation of their rights to seek asylum.
While EU countries protest irregular immigration, which often includes Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa, Germany simultaneously seeks to open up the labor market to much-needed workers from outside the bloc.
“We want to conclude immigration agreements with countries, especially with North African countries, that would allow a legal path to Germany, but would also include effective returns,” Interior Minister Nancy Weser said in Stockholm.
Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Bart Meagher, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Bernadette Boehm
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