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18th Aug 2018

EU keen for overseas delegations to handle asylum requests

An EU commissioner has said people should be able to apply for asylum from their home country, in a radical proposal the status of which remains unclear.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, the commissioner in charge of migration, told press in Brussels on Wednesday (4 March) that immigration attaches are to be posted to EU delegations overseas to handle the applications.

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  • Avramopoulos (r) and Timmermans outline the future 'European Agenda on Migration' (Photo: European Commission)

“For us it is important to adopt rules of legal migration, it means the ones who want to seek asylum will be in a position to do it in the country of origin. We are planning right now to appoint a sort of immigration attaches to our delegations there”, he said.

Avramopoulos made the comment while presenting ideas on a broad EU policy on migration, which covers trafficking, asylum, labour migration, and external border security.

He spoke next to Frans Timmermans, the commission deputy head, who said a sense of urgency about the mounting death toll in the Mediterranean - now the world's deadliest migration route - means the commission will publish its policy in May, rather than July as originally planned.

The status of Avramopoulos’ idea remains uncertain, however.

When asked to elaborate, EU commission spokesperson Natasha Bertaud said there are no formal plans for it and that it had not been discussed among the other 27 commissioners during their orientation debate on the issue.

With consular matters currently a national, rather than an EU competence, she added: “The EU delegations provide information about the situation in the ground but do not have an operational role”.

However, the commissioner has mentioned the idea before - during a hearing in the European Parliament last year.

Radical departure

The implications of allowing people to apply for asylum at the delegations are far-reaching and would mark a radical departure from current practice, which requires demands to be made after reaching EU territory.

The new legal route would be an alternative for migrants who pay smugglers large sums of money to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

Around 170,000 made the sea journey last year. Some 400 have died in the attempt since the start of 2015 alone.

Setting up special attaches in delegations around the world could also mean a better distribution of applications across member states.

According to the EU's border control agency Frontex, around 278,000 migrants attempted to reach Europe last year. In 2013, it was 107,000.

Last year, 10 member states registered 90 percent of asylum applications.

Some 600,000 applied for the status, with Germany taking in the most (34 percent), followed by Sweden (14 percent), and Italy and France (both on 10 percent), while many of the smaller member states did not take any.

Avramopoulos’ comments came on the back of yet another rescue by the Italians of over 1,000 migrants in the Mediterranean within a 48-hour time span.

Meanwhile, incursions by the terror group Islamic State into Libya have led to fears in the EU that yet more people will flee, with the issue is to be discussed by EU foreign ministers on 16 March.

Avramopoulos, for his part, will, in the coming “days, weeks, and months” visit the countries that people are coming from and crossing on their way to the EU.

In practice, it will mean engaging with oppressive governments largely responsible for people seeking refuge in Europe in the first place.

“We do not give them legitimacy, democratic and political legitimacy, but we have to co-operate in a field where we have decided to combat smuggling and trafficking,” said Avramopoulos.

Maritime intel

The EU police agency Europol is also set to launch a crackdown on the criminal networks behind the migrant smuggling franchise along the north African coastline.

A top official at the agency said a maritime intelligence centre, known as Jot Mare, is to be launched in mid-March with the participation of some 13 member states.

The plan is to gather as much intelligence and data on the smugglers using the EU’s border agency Frontex and the Lyon-based the international police agency, Interpol.

“We would like to collect evidence for criminal procedures but we would also like to collect evidence for preventative measures,” said Robert Crepinko at Europol’s operational department on organised crime networks.

Each of the participating member states will send six experts.

EU border guards

Meanwhile, Mattiias Ruete, who heads the commission’s department on migration, said it is possible that Frontex may have its powers expanded.

Frontex co-ordinates member state border surveillance but does not have its own border guards.

Asked to elaborate, Reute pointed to a commission-financed feasibility study, which called for an EU border guard service with an independent command and control centre.

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