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26th Feb 2024

EU to put migration top of foreign policy agenda

  • Last year's Valetta Summit was a first attempt to get African countries to cooperate on stemming the flow of migrants (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

A new proposal by the European Commission puts stemming the flow of migrants in the centre of foreign relations with some neighbourhood countries by providing financial incentives for them to stop people flowing into Europe.

The new communication by the EU executive, to be unveiled on Tuesday (7 June), suggests using visa liberalisation and trade policies with countries such as Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, Niger and Ethiopia as bargaining chips to stem the flow of migrants.

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The paper is to also propose to use an €8 billion fund over the next four years to help Middle Eastern and African countries on the frontline of the migration crisis, according to a report in the Financial Times.

Under the plan, that fund could eventually be increased to €60 billion by contributions from member states and the private sector.

A key issue with such countries is readmitting economic migrants who have been turned back by authorities in EU countries.

The idea to set up arrangements with EU neighbourhood countries and to use financial and other perks for stemming the flow of migrants is based on the EU-Turkey deal that, along with closing down the borders in the Western Balkans, has managed to slow the influx of people to Europe.

Italy recently also proposed using financial, trade and other tools in the EU’s foreign policy kit to set up deals aimed at stopping the flow of migrants.

But critics warn that a similar attempt to tackle migration last year at the Valetta Summit with African leaders have yielded few results.

They express doubt over linking development aid with migration policy because that could harm human rights and distort relations with aid recipient states. There are also concerns that the countries could use migration as blackmail to extract more financial support from the EU.

Kenya, for one, has already threatened to close its Dadaab refugee camp, the largest in the world, unless it gets Turkey-type help from the EU.

Migrant islands

Meanwhile, Austria’s foreign minister has suggested that Greek islands should be turned into permanent holding centres for asylum seekers.

Sebastian Kurz said in an interview with the Die Presse newspaper published on Sunday (5 June) that the EU could follow the “Australian example” to discourage migrants from setting out on the often dangerous journey to Europe.

Under Australia's controversial immigration policy, asylum-seekers who try to reach Australia by boat are turned back or sent to Pacific camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea where they are held indefinitely while their asylum claims are processed.

Kurz, who hails from the centre-right Austrian People's Party (OVP), also said that all migrants who came into Europe illegally should lose their right to request international protection in order to deter others from making the journey.

Over 205,000 people arrived to Europe by sea this year, according to the latest figures by the UN’s refugee agency. More than 2,500 people died trying to make the journey.

Bulgaria reported a 20 percent spike in new arrivals in May.

Hungary, which has erected fences along its southern borders to keep migrants out, has seen almost 400 people detained by police over the weekend for trying to cross into the country illegally, making weekly arrivals of around 900 the norm since February.

Agenda

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Officials already preparing for aftermath of Brexit referendum, but this week EU institutions will focus on migration as Commission unveils ideas on what to do overseas.

EU-Turkey readmission deal in doubt

Commission says Turkey has ratified a readmission pact linked to its EU visa-free bid. Turkish sources told EUobserver it hasn't, as talks become increasingly tense.

Opinion

Ukraine refugees want to return home — but how?

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