Thursday

1st Jun 2023

EU mulls visa restrictions over migrant returns

  • EU commission mulling visa restrictions on countries that refuse to take back their nationals (Photo: Investigative Reporting Project Italy (IRPI))

Countries that refuse to take back their nationals from the EU could face visa restrictions in future.

The European Commission, on Friday (12 March), announced it was ready to make the visa-restriction proposals by summer.

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"I am ready to table proposals to the [EU] Council already this summer for making restrictions on the visa policy," said EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson.

"Now is time to go to action," she noted, adding that a "limited number of countries" can expect to be contacted.

Johansson made the statement to reporters following a meeting of EU interior ministers.

The threat comes amid a confidential European Commission report.

The document lists 39 countries around the world, evaluating their levels of cooperation in 2019 when it comes to readmissions and returns of migrants.

Johansson would not disclose names or provide any figures on countries that could face the restrictions. But she said EU rules were clear and should be used as leverage.

"We have the tools, of course we should use it, both in a way to make more generous visa policy but also to propose a more strict visa policy," she said.

Turkey appears to be among the 39 on the list, according to Portugal's internal affairs minister Eduardo Cabrita.

The EU had agreed almost five years ago with Turkey to swap migrants with refugees landing on the Greek islands in exchange for political concessions and billions in EU funding.

The deal, also known as a statement because it has no legal bearing, has since been frozen.

The issue has riled Johansson, who pointed out that EU member states have resettled up to 3,000 refugees from Turkey since August, despite Covid-19.

"But Turkey has not resumed the returns from the Greek islands and this is what I expect them to do," she pointed out.

The EU's border agency Frontex had also sent Johansson a letter following reported shooting incidents last week from inside the Turkish land border with Greece.

Johansson said the issue will be broached in her planned visit later this month to Greece.

Meanwhile, EU foreign affairs and interior ministers will be holding a joint session on Monday (15 March).

The ministers are set to discuss migration as member states ramp up their ambitions to return unwanted and failed asylum seekers.

Johansson said she hopes their meeting will carve out a timeline on when to table the visa restriction proposal.

But it will also be an opportunity to delve into an EU Portuguese presidency priority.

Cabrita, speaking on the behalf the rotating presidency, said it involves a proposal for "enhanced cooperation between the EU and the countries in north Africa."

This includes everything from migration to police cooperation, he said.

As for issues relating to solidarity among member states when it comes to sharing asylum seekers inside the EU, Cabrita drew a more sober prognosis.

"We are narrowing the gap but we still have a lot of work ahead," he said.

Analysis

Lack of legal clarity on EU 'pushbacks' of migrants at sea

Frontex is invoking EU interception rules, plus a European Court of Human Rights case against Spain, as precedents to allow authorities to turn back migrants in boats in the Aegean Sea. But legal analysis by the EU Commission says otherwise.

Reality bites EU's 'No More Morias' pledge

The EU's hotspot of Moria, a sprawling ghetto-like camp for migrants and refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos, burned down last September. EU leaders declared such scenes would never be replicated. But its replacement faces similar problems.

Frontex's 'serious incident reports' - revealed

Out of the seven serious incident reports shared with this website, five deal with allegations against Greek authorities, while the remainder describe separate incidents in Germany and Hungary.

Turkey snubs Greece on migrant returnees

The Greek government last week requested that the European Commission and EU border agency Frontex help return 1,450 failed asylum seekers to Turkey. Turkey has refused, citing the pandemic.

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