Wednesday

20th Jan 2021

EU set for further talks on overseas asylum centres

  • Libyan coast: 400 people have so far died this year while attempting to cross the Mediterranean (Photo: nasa.org)

EU ministers of justice and foreign affairs are set to meet in July to discuss an Italian-led proposal to offshore asylum claims to centres in northern Africa.

The issue was discussed Monday (16 March) at a meeting of foreign affairs ministers in Brussels but no decisions were made.

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However, the EU’s policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters in Brussels that the proposal will be explored at another meeting.

“One thing that we have, I wouldn’t say decided but sort of, is to have a joint meeting - foreign ministers interior ministers - possibly in July with concrete options to be taken with decisions and this is one of the things that we will explore more,” she said.

Italy’s interior minister Angelino Alfano last week circulated a two-page paper on the idea to a handful of ministers and Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for migration.

The proposal calls for setting up centres in transit countries to process asylum claims there.

Alfano wants the UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) to help run the facilities to ensure human rights standards are properly observed.

But the UNHCR indicated the idea has yet to be throughly discussed.

“No such agreement has been made between our organisation and the Italian authorities,” Vincent Cochetel, the UN agency’s chief in Brussels, told Avramopoulos in a letter seen by this website.

Instead, the UNHCR says asylum seekers should be processed in the territory of the state in which they arrive, or which otherwise has jurisdiction over them.

“At the same time, we recognise that in exceptional circumstances, cooperative multilateral processing arrangements could take place subject to appropriate safeguards,” a spokesperson from the Swiss-based UN organisation told this website.

They say any such arrangement would have to adhere to international law and prior commitments by member states to offer solutions to persons in need of international protection.

Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has made three different proposals.

He wants a European search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean that equals the now-stopped Italian-run Mare Nostrum, which saved around 120,000 people.

Guterres also proposed setting up an EU scheme to compensate shipping companies for losses incurred while rescuing people in distress at sea.

The UN commissioner says a better balance of resettlement of asylum seekers among member states is needed.

Germany and Sweden received around 56 percent of all Syrian asylum applications since the start of the conflict.

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