Charlie Flanagan says Ireland won’t sign up to migrant agreement
Finnish proposal would see EU countries take share of migrants rescued from sea
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan: Ireland’s asylum system is ‘under some stress’, he said. ‘We all know the numbers for direct provision.’ Photograph: Crispin Rodwell for The Irish Times
Ireland will not sign up to an international agreement to take a share of migrants rescued from the Mediterranean, and will continue to decide the issue on a case-by-case basis.
The proposals, put forward by the Finnish government as part of its presidency of the EU, are backed by France and Germany. The countries want an end to the current ad-hoc approach to taking migrants from Africa from rescue ships arriving in southern Europe.
Italy and Malta have long argued they are unfairly bearing the burden of accommodating asylum-seekers landing on their shores after being rescued from the Mediterranean.
Their governments have recently refused entry to several ships carrying rescued migrants, a situation which will likely continue until an EU deal is reached to share the burden. The captain of one ship which landed 42 rescued migrants in Italy is currently being prosecuted by the authorities there.
The topic dominated a meeting of European interior and justice ministers in Helsinki on Thursday, which which was attended by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.
The meetings ended without agreement, but it is understood about 12 countries have expressed an interest in being part of the scheme.
The Finnish proposals would see rescued migrants being distributed from countries such as Italy and Malta to other EU countries under the direction of the European Commission.
Once there the migrants would be processed under those countries’ asylum systems. Countries taking part would receive extra funding from EU funds to cover the costs.
The draft proposal states signatory countries will “ensure the relocation of those applying for international protection to our national territories is achieved as fast as possible”.
In January, Ireland agreed to take five unaccompanied minors who had been rescued from the Mediterranean and brought to Malta
Asked if Ireland would be taking part, Mr Flanagan told The Irish Times it would continue to offer assistance “as we have done, on a case-by-case basis”.
Ireland’s asylum system is “under some stress”, he said.
“We all know the numbers for direct provision.”
He said the numbers of asylum seekers coming to Ireland increased last year despite decreasing across the EU in general. “This is a challenge that we have. It’s a different challenge to our EU colleagues.”
In January, Ireland agreed to take five unaccompanied minors who had been rescued from the Mediterranean and brought to Malta.
Mr Flanagan said Ireland will focus on reducing the number of migrants making the journey by putting smugglers “out of action” and building up African countries using resources such as the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, to which Ireland is a contributor.
Along with France and Germany, the Finns want to persuade Italy and Malta to end their policies of refusing to allow migrant rescue ships to dock in their ports.
“We cannot let anyone drown in the Mediterranean as they are now. We need more robust arrangements that are not ad-hoc . . . The situation needs our attention all the time and we should act together,” the new Finnish minister of the interior, Maria Ohisalo, said on Thursday.
There have been several recent incidents of rescued migrants spending days at sea, in sometimes desperate conditions, because of the refusal of Italy and Malta to take them.
“This treatment is simply unworthy of Europe,” German interior minister Horst Seehofer said before Thursday’s meeting. Countries must work together to end “the agonising process”.
While fighting smuggling and preventing irregular arrivals remains our priority, we cannot leave migrants at sea while we look for solutions
Negotiations on the proposals are to continue at a meeting of interior and foreign ministers in Paris on Monday.
“Next week in Paris will be of great importance,” said European commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos, who called on all EU states to join the initiative. He stressed that migration issues “are here to stay for many, many years”.
“While fighting smuggling and preventing irregular arrivals remains our priority, we cannot leave migrants at sea while we look for solutions.”
Other topics discussed in Helsinki include the threat of cyber-attacks, election interference from other countries, and proposals to withhold funding from EU countries which pass laws affecting the independence of the judiciary, as has occurred in Poland.
Ministers also took part in a role-playing exercise simulating an attack on a European country.