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POLITICO: EU ministers take on illegal refugees in earnest

27-1-2023 |

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson on Thursday stressed that more rejected asylum-seekers should be reaching their own countries as she unveiled a tougher approach in the face of surging irregular migration.

“We can do significant progress to increase the numbers of returns, and have it more effective and quicker,” Johansson said ahead of the informal meeting of EU interior ministers in Stockholm.

With three times more asylum applications than irregular arrivals, reception capacities are overloaded, she said. And many applicants are not actually in the need of international protection, according to the Swedish commissioner.

To prove this point, she pointed out an increase in migrant flows to Europe from “safe” countries such as Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cuba and India.

“We need to act as a team Europe” to put pressure on third countries and better digitalize return procedures, she said, echoing recommendations in a recent Commission draft plan.

Pointing the finger at national governments, she also indicated that although the EU’s border control agency Frontex “is very well-equipped to support our returns, only five member states use it.” She cited statistics that EU capitals reach out to countries of origin in only 16 percent of cases.

Thursday’s meeting addressed measures that would ensure each EU member regularly provide Frontex with relevant data on returns by the end of each year, with the objective of establishing a digitized process in all member states as soon as possible.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Johansson pointed to “strong commitments from the ministers” in favor of using article 25a “to a greater extent than we have done so far.’’

This refers to a clause in the EU visa code that would allow the bloc to apply visa restrictions for countries with low rates of migrant returns as an incentive for them to cooperate more.

Earlier this week, the European Commission presented its plan to step up return of migrants to countries outside of the European Union.

Rising numbers of arrivals have brought the explosive topic back onto the EU agenda, with some leaders — like Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer — publicly calling for the EU to finance a €2 billion fence along Turkey’s border with Bulgaria, where an increasing number of migrants are crossing into the EU.

In an interview with POLITICO, European People’s Party leader Manfred Weber called on the Commission to explore the possibility of building fences. “The EU Commission must give up its resistance to providing EU funds for this. This has been discussed for a long time … We expect the Commission to move on this,” said the German politician.

However, on fencing, Johansson reiterated the position of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen: “There’s no money in the EU budget for this. So if we spend money on walls and fences, there will be no money for other things.”