Guy Verhofstadt has called for an extraordinary European summit on migration on Thursday (6 August), to address the “increasingly untenable” situation at the EU’s borders.
In a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, the leader of the European Parliament’s Liberal ALDE Group, Guy Verhofstadt, said it was “urgent” for the EU to adapt to the migrant crisis unfolding at the bloc’s external and internal borders.
More than 180,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to the European Union since January this year. But the death toll continues to rise, as thousands of migrants attempt the crossing every day on unsafe and overcrowded boats.
A special EU summit on migration was held in April, but since then the crisis has worsened.
The tragedy continued on Wednesday 5 August, when the Italian coastguard picked up 400 would-be migrants from the waters off the coast of Libya after their boat sank. It is feared that a further 200 people drowned before they could be rescued.
The International Organisation for Migration estimates that at least 2,000 people have drowned attempting the crossing so far this year.
A “pitiful” response
“If a reminder is at all needed that the current EU asylum and migration system is not fit for purpose, then the deaths in Calais and the Mediterranean are testimony to this,” Guy Verhofstadt wrote.
The former Belgian prime minister told Donald Tusk that only “an effective EU wide solution”, with each country taking its share of the burden, would bring the crisis under control. This must “go beyond the pitiful response to the resettlement of 40,000 migrants from Italy and Greece”, he added.
Among the solutions proposed by the ALDE Group leader are greater solidarity between EU member states, stronger measures to tackle illegal immigration, with a more effective return and readmission process, and opening up more legal channels for economic migration.
Around 3,000 migrants live in desperate conditions on the outskirts of Calais, in the hope of boarding a truck bound for the UK, and 10 have died since June attempting to enter the channel tunnel.
“Neither the French nor the British authorities are able to provide solutions to the ongoing stand-off in Calais,” which has strained relations between London and Paris
An EU wide strategy
Guy Verhofstadt called for the Dublin Regulation to be replaced by “a centralised European asylum system that allocates genuine refugees more equally between EU countries”.
Under the Dublin Regulation, asylum seekers are obliged to register their application in the first EU country they arrive in, and other member states have the right to send them back to that country if they try to move on. This system has increased the strain on countries like Greece, Italy and Hungary, while other member states have shown little solidarity in sharing the burden.
The letter also states that the EU must “tackle the root causes of migratory flows” by increasing demands for reform on the migrants’ countries of origin and providing more help with development aid.
Guy Verhofstadt urged European leaders not to “succumb to nationalists, finger pointing and building fences”. “We as Europeans know better than most that building walls is certainly not a solution to anything.”