European Union interior ministers yesterday (12 March) thrashed out ways to tackle the growing tide of migrants fleeing conflict in the Middle East and North Africa by seeking illegal residence in Europe.
Setting up asylum processing facilities in third countries was one of the methods discussed to deal with would-be migrants. But, with unrest creating chaos in most of those nations, the European Union faces a huge challenge surmounting the problem.
“The pressure from migration just keeps growing,” Latvian Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis said after talks in Brussels.
“The European Union has to do more not only in the Mediterranean but also in the land borders in the Western Balkans.”
But he added that the 28-nation bloc was “determined to take necessary measures”.
The number of migrants entering the EU illegally in 2014 nearly tripled to 276,000 people compared to 2013, according to the EU borders agency Frontex. Out of the total, 220,000 arrived via the Mediterranean.
The UN says at least 3,500 people died last year while crossing the Mediterranean, making it the deadliest migrant route in the world.
Libya remains the point of departure for many risking the journey, with divisions between warring factions and rising Islamist violence making the country a key concern for the EU.
“If the Libyan question is not resolved it is pointless talking about immigration in the hope of blocking their departure,” Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.
“The priority for the whole international community must be to set up centres on African territory to treat asylum demands and see if they are acceptable.”
Meanwhile, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, Europe is also facing the threat of radicalised young citizens returning from fighting with jihadist militias in Syria and Iraq.
Since 1999, the EU has worked to create a Common European Asylum System and improve the current legislative framework.
New EU rules have now been agreed, setting out common high standards and stronger co-operation, to ensure that asylum seekers are treated equally in an open and fair system – wherever they apply.
But EU countries rejected the Commission's proposal that asylum seekers from the countries mostly affected from the arrival of migrants should be relocated in other EU member states.