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20th Feb 2020

EU embassies should take asylum requests, new commissioner says

Dimitris Avramopoulos , the incoming Greek EU commissioner for migration and home affairs, wants offices set up at the EU's foreign embassies to allow people to apply for asylum.

“We should have offices in the EU delegations all over the world, in particular in third countries, where we should allow people to apply for asylum or for legal migration status,” Avramopoulou told euro-deputies at his hearing on Tuesday (30 September).

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The idea departs from Europe's existing and more restrictive migration policies, which critics say are forcing people fleeing persecution and wars to embark on perilous journeys on small boats across the Mediterranean Sea.

Some 3,000 people have already died in the attempt this year alone, with a report out by Amnesty International on Tuesday demanding a collective EU response amid reports Italy is set to wind down its Mare Nostrum search and rescue naval operations.

British centre-left MEP Claude Moraes, who heads the civil liberties committee, said Avramopoulos' plan had taken many deputies by surprise.

“I think most members would want him to develop that idea [and] it’s not something most members would have heard of before. I would give him marks for imagination,” Moraes told reporters following the hearing.

Avramopoulos is Greece’s minister of defence and a former mayor of Athens. If confirmed, he will become the first EU commissioner with "migration" in the title of his dossier.

The 53-year old, speaking in English and French in his opening address to the committee, said it is Europe’s responsibility to offer protection to refugees, to respect the rights of asylum seekers, and to guarantee an end to all pushbacks.

Up for possible review is the EU’s Dublin regulation, a policy that requires point-of-entry member states to take charge of all incoming asylum requests. The policy has generated controversy for the lack of solidarity among member states to help process claims.

Avramopoulos said some areas of the policy need to be revisited, but stopped short of calling for a complete overhaul.

The commissioner-designate also wants to reinforce the EU’s border agency, Frontex, which is set to expand its sea operations in the Mediterranean later this year.

The agency is mandated to co-ordinate border surveillance among member states but Avramopoulos suggested Frontex should place more emphasis on search and rescue.

“We should give priority to saving lives,” he said.

No to Fortress Europe

He noted tackling irregular migration requires respecting fundamental rights but warned against setting up a Fortress Europe, in reference to border control policies that prevent people from entering the EU in the first place.

That entails tackling populism and xenophobia in Europe head on.

“Let me clear from the very beginning, the answer to these challenges is definitely not Fortress Europe,” he said.

But later in the hearing he defended a controversial Greek policy to erect a razor-wire fence on the Turkish border along a part of the Evros river, which he said was designed to create “legal corridors”.

He also spoke in favour of a so-called charter on legal migration, which he says is needed to bring in skilled workers and offset the widening age demographics throughout the Union.

The line largely sticks to the mission letter he received from President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker on setting up a new policy on legal migration.

It would include reviewing exiting policies like the 'blue card' directive and other measures in a larger effort to attract more high and low skilled workers, students, and researchers to the EU.

MEPs also grilled Avramopoulos on his views on the scrapped EU data retention directive, the rising threat of foreign fighters, an updated EU passenger records name (PNR) proposal, keeping the EU’s internal border Schengen open, among other security-related issues.

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