Brussels has promised to fund, equip and staff controversial migrant reception centres if member states will establish them.
The European Commission on Tuesday published "concept papers" on the centres inside the EU and in coastal states where migrants rescued in the Mediterranean can be funnelled for assessment of their asylum claims.
The union will also fund their resettlement in member states to the tune of €8,000-€10,000 a head.
Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini quickly denounced the offer as far too little. “We aren’t asking for charity handouts. Every asylum seeker costs the Italian taxpayer between 40,000 and 50,000 euros. Brussels, they can keep their charity for themselves,” Mr Salvini told reporters. “We don’t want money. We want dignity.”
The "regional disembarkation centres" and "controlled centres" concepts were endorsed at the June EU summit as a means of reconciling bitter disputes between, among others, Italy and Germany over handling mass migration flows over the Mediterranean. Italy continues to demand greater solidarity in burden sharing from fellow member states.
Rome, meanwhile, is now giving the EU five weeks to find a solution to share the migration burden. The EU’s naval rescue operation Sophia had been paused over Italian threats not to allow migrant disembarkation at its ports.
Foreign minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi said after talks with his German counterpart Heiko Maas in Berlin on Monday that Italy would allow ships from Sophia with migrants to dock at Italian ports for the next five weeks until the EU talks could come up with a new solution.
Italy has demanded a revision of the EU’s Sophia anti-trafficking mission in the Mediterranean, the terms of which call for rescued migrants automatically to disembark at Italian ports. The EU is hoping that Italy will take one of the proposed “controlled centres”.
EU ambassadors will today give the commission plans their first once-over. And a meeting next week will bring together coastal states, the EU, African Union, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the UN's refugee organisation and the UNHCR, to discuss the viability of establishing disembarkation centres, largely funded by the EU, in north African states and other coastal states.
To date no “third country” state has indicated a willingness to do so. Although the disembarkation proposal, commission sources stressed on Tuesday, was largely the operationalisation of UNHCR/IOM ideas to help such coastal states fulfil their obligations in international law for safeguarding those rescued from their seas. The EU would assist them with cash, equipment, training and personnel for the centres.
The commission outline of how the separate “controlled centres” would work within the EU suggests that states volunteering to set up such centres rapidly to process asylum seekers – “within eight weeks” after a rapid three-day initial vetting, the paper suggests – would receive full funding and operational support from the EU, with disembarkation teams of European border guards, asylum experts, security screeners and return officers all provided by the union.
Typically such a centre, which would remain under the control of the host member state, the commission suggests, could involve manning by up to 170 European Border and Coast Guard Agency officers. This could comprise 10 to 20 Europol officers, 120 from the European Asylum Support Office – including 50 interpreters – and medical staff from the member states.
These are not to be seen as “camps”, insist EU officials, with security levels a matter for the host states.
Member states agreeing to take their share of successful asylum applicants from the centres would receive €6,000 per resettled migrant in addition to some €500 transfer costs. Migrants whose applications were not successful would be rapidly returned to their countries of origin or transferred to other member states under the “Dublin” procedure.
“Regional Disembarkation Centres”, set up by third countries under the auspices of the IOM and UNHCR, would not involve detention or camps and would receive EU financial and operational support. The EU would also assist in managing returns to country of origin. And the resettlement grants to member states available for each successful asylum seeker resettled in Europe would remain at €10,000 per head.
EU officials insisted that such centres would have to meet international benchmark standards for human rights and respect of migrants in order to get EU support.