Friday

24th Sep 2021

Key EU countries seek support for new migration plan

  • Malta: EU countries are trying to find a mechanism to deal with migrant arrivals at sea (Photo: Berit Watkin)

Four EU countries on Monday (23 September) agreed on a temporary scheme to relocate asylum seekers rescued in the central Mediterranean.

The interior ministers of Germany, France, Italy, Malta - and Finland, which holds the EU rotating presidency - agreed on a plan in Valletta that will now be presented to their EU counterparts on 8 October.

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They seek broader support for the proposal that aims to end ad-hoc distribution of migrants stranded at sea.

"Following the discussion, we will be able to see which countries are ready to support this paper, or if need to be make some suggestions, or further amendments," Maltese interior minister Michael Farrugia told reporters.

The talks came after the new Italian government tried to take a different tack, in the wake of former interior minister Matteo Salvini decision to close his country's ports to NGO vessels that rescued migrants in the Mediterranean.

Rescue vessels are regularly stranded at sea, with Mediterranean countries reluctant to allow migrants in without an agreement with other EU countries that they would take in some of the asylum seekers.

However, the ministers on Monday unveiled little of their agreement's substance, wanting to present it first to other EU countries.

A Hungarian government spokesman has already dismissed the plan, calling the agreement the "latest attempt to impose the quotas".

'Ship-by-ship'

Finland's Maria Ohisalo said it is "crucial that we move away from ship-by-ship based arrangements", towards a more predictable solution.

She added that the proposal is a "good pilot case, limited in time and focused on disembarkations after search and rescue operations", which ensures "swift relocation of asylum seekers on a voluntary basis to other member states".

Mandatory relocation of asylum seekers caused a major rift among EU countries at the height of the migrant influx in 2015 when central European countries refused to take in people.

Negotiations to reform the EU's asylum system had been at a deadlock since, as countries could not agree on a redistribution mechanism.

Ohisalo said Finland sought a "sufficiently large" number member states to make the scheme work, adding that it could be the basis for a more permanent solution.

Horst Seehofer, Germany's interior minister, added that the number of those distributed will be discussed on 8 October, but added that the number of migrants up for relocation will also depend on the participating member states.

Outgoing migration EU commission Dimitris Avramopoulos said the proposal makes good progress towards a "predictable and structural set of temporary arrangements".

There had been efforts before to find a temporary mechanism, in the absence of a working EU asylum policy, that could deal with the arrival of rescue vessels. But those talks produced few palpable solutions so far.

During the summer, France said it had agreed with eight EU countries to share the resettlement of migrants rescued at sea. Italy was then not one of them.

A successful EU migrant agreement, even on a temporary basis, would be a blow to Salvini's confrontational anti-EU rhetoric.

Incoming EU commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, has promised a "fresh start" on migration.

When unveiling her commission earlier this month, she acknowledged that the so-called Dublin regulation, that determines who handles asylum applications, needs reform.

She did not specify if the her commission plans to drop the current commission's plans for reforming the regulation.

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