11th Dec 2019

Migrants keep coming as EU seeks new border plans

  • At least 14 vessels carrying over 1,500 people arrived at the coasts of the Canary Islands on Saturday and Sunday from Sub-Saharan Africa (Photo: AFM)

The Canary Islands have been hit by its biggest wave of illegal immigrants over the weekend, as European countries seek solutions to stop the flow of people from the African continent to the southern borders of the EU.

At least 14 vessels carrying over 1,500 people arrived at the coasts of the Canary Islands on Saturday and Sunday from Sub-Saharan Africa.

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Spanish deputy prime minister Maria Fernandez de la Vega announced on Friday (1 September) that prime minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has put immigration at the forefront of a meeting of southern EU states in Madrid later this month to seek a joint response to the crisis.

The interior and defence ministers of the countries are set to talk about issues such as coastal surveillance, rescue operations and repatriation, and have a proposal ready for a summit of the 25 EU leaders in December.

Spain has asked the EU and the UN to assist it with the immigrant situation. Last week, Ms Fernandez de la Vega travelled to Finland, the current holder of the rotating EU presidency, and to Brussels to lobby support for more EU-wide efforts to fight illegal immigration and for an extension of current efforts by the EU border patrol agency, Frontex.

Earlier this month, the EU launched its first joint border patrol aimed at stopping the illegal immigrants coming to the Canary Islands from Africa.

The Canary Islands mission, dubbed Hera II, is expected to last nine weeks and is covered by an EU budget of €3.2 million, with Spain co-financing the project.

After meeting with Ms Fernandez de la Vega, EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini said he would head a top-level working group to help come up with a "European model" on illegal immigration.

Along with Mr Frattini, the five commissioners responsible for development, foreign affairs, EU regions, social policy and education policy will be on the team to tackle the problem from as many angles as possible.

Meanwhile, an EU strategic committee on immigration, frontiers and asylum with 120 experts from 30 European countries will meet on Sunday (10 September) in Finland for a three day meeting to discuss the Finnish EU presidency's proposal for a new strategy on ways to monitor the EU's external borders.

Besides the member states, experts will come from accession countries Bulgaria and Romania as well as neighbouring Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.

More than 20,000 African migrants have been intercepted so far this year in and on the Spanish coasts, and the number for August alone exceeds that for all of last year, according to Spanish authorities.

Migrants who survive the risky voyage across rough waters and make it to Spanish territory are kept in holding centres. Authorities then have 40 days in which to repatriate or release them. The immigrants are either sent back to their country of origin or to the country from which they set sail, if Spain has repatriation accords with that country.

Malta, Italy and Greece have similar problems with scores of desperate Africans seeking better standards of living in Europe.

Home affairs ministers from Malta, Italy and Libya will meet in Valetta this week to discuss the problem.


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