- EU border agency sees highest number of irregular arrivals since 2016 in 2022
- Ministers discuss curbing immigration, strengthening returns
- Hardline immigration ideas back on stage
- EU’s top immigration official says no money to build ‘walls and fences’
STOCKHOLM, Jan 26 (Reuters) – EU ministers on Thursday sought ways to curb irregular migration and send more departures as arrivals rebounded from pandemic lows, revisiting borders outside Europe Controversial ideas for fences and sanctuary centers.
The European Union’s border agency, Frontex, reported that some 330,000 people entered the country without authorization last year, the highest figure since 2016, with a sharp increase on the Western Balkans route.
“We have a large number of irregular migrant arrivals,” Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told a meeting of 27 EU immigration ministers. “We have a very low return rate and I can see that we can make significant progress here.”
Denmark, the Netherlands and Latvia are among those calling for more pressure on visas and development aid to some 20 countries, including Iraq and Senegal, which the EU says have failed to cooperate in taking back nationals who are not entitled to remain in Europe.
Only about one in five people were deported last year, according to the EU executive, and insufficient resources and coordination on the EU’s part are another hurdle.
Ministerial talks are scheduled until 2 February. A summit of EU leaders – the bloc’s top political body – on Sept. 10 will also seek more in return, according to a draft joint statement seen by Reuters.
“Walls and Fences”
Migration is a highly politically sensitive topic in the EU, with member states sharply divided over how to share the task of caring for people granted asylum in Europe.
The topic has become toxic since more than a million people crossed the Mediterranean in chaotic and deadly scenes in 2015, which caught the EU off guard, overwhelmed reception and security capacity and stoked anti-immigration sentiment.
With people moving again in the wake of the global COVID pandemic, the debate has come back into focus as some proposals have been rejected as unacceptable in the past.
Denmark has been negotiating with Rwanda to process asylum applicants from East Africa, while other EU countries have sought funding for a border fence between EU members Bulgaria and Turkey – both ideas hitherto considered taboo.
Immigration Minister Kaare Dybvad said on Thursday: “We are still trying to make this happen, preferably with other European countries, but as a last resort we will only work with countries like Denmark and Rwanda.”
Dutch Minister Eric van der Burgh said he was open to EU funding for border barriers.
Johnson tried to dismiss the idea, saying: “If we spend money on walls and fences, there’s no money left for other things.”
While some EU countries protest irregular migration from the Middle East and North Africa, which often includes Muslims, Germany is seeking to open its job market to much-needed workers from outside the EU.
“We want to have a migration agreement with countries, especially North African countries, that allows legal access to Germany, but also includes effective return,” Interior Minister Nancy Feser said in Stockholm.
Edited by Bernadette Baum
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