17th Aug 2022

Six brains to find EU solution to immigration 'tragedy'

  • 18,000 people came to Spain's Canary islands alone this year compared to 4,700 in 2005 (Photo: AFM)

Brussels is setting up a six-strong top-level working group to help come up with a "European model" on illegal immigration, as desperate Africans continue to wash up in Spain, Malta, Italy and Greece in unprecedented numbers.

Home affairs chief Franco Frattini will chair the team, which also comprises the five commissioners responsible for development, foreign affairs, EU regions, social policy and education policy to tackle the problem from as many angles as possible.

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"A lasting solution to this thorny problem will require constant efforts and substantial resources. There is no quick fix," Italy's Mr Frattini said on Wednesday (30 August), with 18,000 people having hit Spain's Canary islands alone this year compared to 4,700 in 2005.

The commissioner also voiced grief at the "tragedy" of the uncounted people drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea or Atlantic waters. About 20 died last weekend and European press has been peppered with photos of scared and emaciated African men in boats in recent months.

The Brussels taskforce will try to sketch out a new "European model" on immigration in time for an EU home affairs ministers' meeting in Finland on 21 September, including practical ideas such as more staff for the EU's Frontex border control agency and political ideas on cultivating EU solidarity.

"The Spanish problem is a European problem, as is the Maltese, the Italian or the Greek," Mr Frattini stated. "It is essential that all member states continue to show their political readiness to share the heavy burden."

No extra cash for Spain

The taskforce was unveiled after Spanish deputy prime minister, Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, came to Brussels on Wednesday to ask for more EU help. Over the summer the commission launched a €3.2 million air and sea patrol scheme in the Canaries.

Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said Brussels "has mobilised all the resources it could" but noted that there is no extra emergency cash on the table and that the ball is now in the member states' court if they want Europe "to do all the things that are asked of it."

In the long term, the commission has asked MEPs and member states to set aside €6 billion of the €100 billion EU budget for 2007 to 2013 for four new immigration funds targeting: social integration; repatriation; refugee housing and extra boats and planes.

Mr Frattini indicated that foreign policy and development aid could hold the real key to the EU's immigration puzzle however, saying "Eventually we need to take away the very reasons why people feel compelled to leave their home and embark on an extremely dangerous journey to the EU."

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