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EU tries to assuage German, Italian concerns on migration

File photo: migrants, part of a group intercepted aboard three dinghies off the coast in the Mediterranean Sea, stand on a rescue boat upon arrival at the port of Malaga

The European Union will agree next week to look into creating disembarkation platforms in north Africa and elsewhere to decide asylum requests before claimants get to Europe, a draft statement ahead of an EU summit showed.

European capitals from Rome to Budapest have called for such centres as the bloc has struggled since 2015 to deal with higher immigration, but concerns that processing people outside EU borders could violate the law have so far prevented such moves.

Now, however, Italy’s new anti-establishment government has demanded that Europe does more to help it handle refugees and migrants arriving from across the Mediterranean.

“Such platforms should provide for rapid processing to distinguish between economic migrants and those in need of international protection, and reduce the incentive to embark on perilous journeys,” the draft statement of EU leaders said.

The document, whose wording might still change, is not public but was seen by Reuters before the June 28-29 EU summit, where all 28 EU leaders will lock horns again over migration, an issue that has bitterly divided them.

Though arrival numbers have long been decreasing and are now low, migration has shot back to the top of Europe’s political agenda also because German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partner issued an ultimatum for an EU-wide deal on migration.

Otherwise, Berlin would introduce right after the summit a unilateral ban on refugees already registered in other EU states, said the junior governing Christian Social Union, which holds the interior ministry.

The EU border agency Frontex said more than 90 percent of those arriving in Italy, Greece and Spain register for asylum there. But they still often go north, including to Germany.

That phenomenon, known as “secondary movements”, is against EU law but has been widespread since 2015, the peak of Europe’s migration crisis.

“Secondary movements of asylum seekers between Member States put the integrity of the Asylum System severely at risk. Member States should take all necessary internal legislative and administrative measures to counter such movements and to closely cooperate amongst each other to this end,” the text said in an indirect response to German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

 

TENSIONS HIGH

 

The text is aimed at helping Rome and Berlin agree on migration at the summit.

As the bloc struggled to find a compromise on reforming its internal asylum rules – which broke down under 2015 arrivals – it has instead looked to tighten its borders and prevent people reaching its shores in the first place.

The EU has given aid and money to countries from Turkey and Jordan to Libya and Niger.

There are also migrant camps in Libya run by the Tripoli government where the EU pays the UN agencies for migration (IOM) and refugees (UNHCR) to help resettle people to Europe legally or return them home further south in Africa, rather than have them try to reach Europe.

If the bloc takes it one step further, it would also want the two UN bodies involved as a way to assuage criticism from rights groups.

Despite increased political pressure from Berlin and Rome, talks on reforming the bloc’s internal asylum rules remain stuck with southern and wealthy central states demanding that all EU members host some of the new arrivals.

But their ex-communist peers in the EU’s east refuse and there have been no new ideas on how to break the stalemate.

Otherwise, most other Dublin reforms are agreed. They include strengthening the EU’s external borders and bringing together the bloc’s data bases for better border protection.

That makes a fudge at the summit likely with the “disembarkation platforms” and measures to crack down on secondary movement being used to appease Italy and Germany.

“So much progress has been made, we can’t let all slip away now. So we need to give key countries something to keep them on board,” one EU official said of the proposed text.

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