EU to step up deportation of migrants and tighten borders

Ministers meeting in Luxembourg sign proposal to tackle crisis ahead of EU summit

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of  EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, in Luxembourg where the meeting focused on  a system to keep out migrants who do not qualify for asylum. Photograph: Julien Warnand/ EPA

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, in Luxembourg where the meeting focused on a system to keep out migrants who do not qualify for asylum. Photograph: Julien Warnand/ EPA

 

The European Union pledged on Thursday to step up deportation of illegal migrants. As EU justice and home affairs ministers signed off on new plans to help tackle the refugee crisis, it did, however, stress that detention of people would only be used as a last resort.

Ahead of an EU summit next week that is expected to focus on migration and the civil war in Syria, EU justice ministers meeting in Luxembourg signed off on a proposal designed to bolster the EU’s returns policy and strengthen border controls. The move may signal a tougher stance by the EU towards the refugee crisis.

The EU has been trying to balance a need to fulfil its legal and humanitarian obligations towards those seeking refuge with calls from some member states to improve border controls and repatriate economic migrants, as thousands of refugees continue to flee Syria for the EU.

In a communiqué endorsed by ministers, the European Council said that a “coherent, credible and effective” returns policy was an “essential part of a comprehensive EU migration policy”.

“Increased returns should act as a deterrent to irregular migration,” the ministers said, calling on member states to co-operate better in terms of returns policy.

They also vowed to ensure that non-EU countries fully implement existing readmission agreements that require them to re-admit citizens who have been refused asylum in the EU.

But in a bid to help so-called “transit” countries who have a tide of refugees passing through them on their way to more affluent EU countries, such as Germany, the EU also pledged more resources for the Balkan states, including a €17 million package for Serbia and Macedonia.

A conference with representatives of the Balkan states, as well as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, held on the sidelines of Thursday’s scheduled meeting, indicated increasing engagement by the EU with non-EU countries struggling with the migration crisis.

Earlier this week, the heads of the three EU institutions hosted Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Brussels in a bid to increase Turkish-EU co-operation in tackling the crisis.

The leaders of France and Germany put migration at the heart of their address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, with German chancellor Angela Merkel calling on member states to put their differences aside and approach the refugee crisis collectively.

Germany, which remains the preferred destination point for most Syrian refugees, has been criticised by some east European countries for its “open-door” policy that some say has encouraged more migrants to come to Europe, including those who are not refugees.

Ministers signed off on extra EU funds for the migration crisis agreed by the European Commission last month, including €1.3 million towards the creation of 120 new jobs, made up of 60 new staff members for the border-control agency Frontex, 30 extra employees for the European Asylum Support Office and 30 new funded positions for Europol.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council will vote on Friday on a resolution that could authorise the EU and individual countries to board and seize vessels on the sea off Libya that are being used to smuggle migrants.

While the EU stepped up its search-and-rescue mission in the Mediterranean this week, with the launch of a new mission mandated to seize and destroy boats being used for human trafficking, a UN Security Council mandate is required to undertake similar activity in Libyan waters.

On Friday EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos will travel to Italy as the first refugees participating in the EU’s relocation scheme are flown from Italy to Sweden, a development he described as “historic” for the EU.