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17th Feb 2019

EU explores new migration 'zone' in north Africa

  • Over 3,500 people died trying to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean last year (Photo: DukeUnivLibraries)

The EU’s migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, is to visit Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco amid an Italian-led plan to set up migrant reception centres.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Thursday (12 March) after a meeting of the bloc’s 28 interior ministers, Avramopoulos said “I intend to visit Tunisia and Egypt, of course Morocco is included in my agenda, in order to create a zone in the area” to fight smuggling and irregular migration.

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His tour coincides with an Italian-led drive for the EU to create refugee reception centres in northern Africa and, possibly, in Sudan and Niger.

"It's about a humanitarian mission which would allow Europe to do screening and to dismantle a huge human trafficking market," said Italian interior minister Angelino Alfano.

The AP news agency reportsthat interior ministers from France, Germany, and Austria are keen on the idea and that Avramopoulos will also visit Vienna to flesh out details.

Italy is pressing the issue amid ever greater numbers of Mediterranean migrant crossings.

Around 220,000 people attempted the dangerous route last year, with most setting sail from war-torn Libya.

Avramopoulos earlier this month also proposed setting up special immigration attaches in EU delegations to handle asylum requests in the country of origin.

But when asked to elaborate on Thursday, he described the idea as “a long term project” and said there is no decision yet.

“It is something that we are working on right now, to see whether it is feasible and to see whether it is workable and whether it can prove itself efficient. Yes, the idea was launched, the decision was not made,” he said.

Migratory pressure has also increased in the Western Balkans, with calls for more resources to be given to the EU’s border agency Frontex.

The six Western Balkan countries registered 108,583 asylum applications last year, representing a 45 percent increase compared to 2013.

Latvia’s interior minister Rihards Kozlovskis, speaking on the behalf of the EU presidency, said the border agency needs more money and more staff.

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