‘Disembarkation platforms’ outside EU considered to end migrant row

Migrants descend from the gangplank of the Dattilo, an Italian Coast Guard patrol boat carrying 274 migrants and accompanying the Aquarius, after it docked after eight days at sea in the port of Valencia, Spain, 17 June 2018. [Juan Carlos Cardenas/EPA/EFE]

The EU is considering setting up “disembarkation platforms” outside the bloc to process migrants, according to draft summit conclusions seen Tuesday (19 June) by AFP, as Brussels tries to solve a political crisis over immigration.

European Union leaders meeting in Brussels next week will be asked to approve the creation of centres to assess migrants trying to reach the bloc and decide which are refugees in need of protection and which are economic migrants who should be returned to their home countries.

Immigration looks set to dominate the 28 and 29 June gathering, after Italy’s new rightwing government refused to accept a boatload of migrants rescued from the Mediterranean and hardliners in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition gave her an ultimatum to get tough on the issue.

Merkel avoids government collapse over immigration but faces deadline

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Bavarian allies agreed to give her two weeks’ breathing space yesterday (18 June) to find a European solution to a row over immigration that threatens to scupper her three-month-old coalition government.

“The European Council supports the development of the concept of regional disembarkation platforms in close cooperation with UNHCR and IOM,” the draft conclusions seen by AFP say, referring to the United Nations refugee agency and the International Organisation for Migration.

“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 conclusions were drawn up by European Council President Donald Tusk in cooperation with Bulgaria, which holds the rotating EU presidency, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and would need unanimous approval by all 28 member states.

The proposal, which may be revised before going before leaders at the summit, does not specify what form the processing centres would take or where they would be located, but an EU official indicated they would be set up in countries outside the bloc.

Another European source told AFP that Tunisia was one country being considered to host the centres. Albania has also been mentioned in the past when similar ideas have been floated.

EU states have been deadlocked for two years in efforts to reform asylum rules which currently require the countries where migrants first arrive in the bloc to process their asylum requests.

Italy, Greece and Spain are the main entry points to Europe for the influx of migrants fleeing war and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. Rome’s hardline new government has taken a tough stance, saying it will not become “Europe’s refugee camp”.

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Italy’s new hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini said Sunday that “common sense” was needed to stop the country from being “Europe’s refugee camp” as he visited a migrant centre in the south.

EU cooperation deals with Turkey and Libya, the main transit countries, have helped to slow, at least for now, the flow of migrants to Europe since the peak of the crisis in 2015.

Italy proposes Libya pact to curb illegal migration

Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti on Thursday (13 July) proposed a pact with Libya to combat human trafficking during a visit to Tripoli to meet mayors of cities affected by the scourge.

Leaders will also be asked next week to approve stepping up support for the Libyan coastguard, according to the conclusions.

Italy applauds Tripoli's decision to keep NGO ships far away from Libyan coasts

The Italian government yesterday (13 August) welcomed Libya’s decision to bar foreign vessels from a stretch of water off its coast, a move that has prompted almost all international charities to halt migrant search and rescue operations in the area.

Last week’s row over the fate of more than 600 migrants on the Aquarius rescue boat has thrust the migrant issue back to the top of the EU agenda.

Italy refused to let the vessel dock at its ports, prompting French President Emmanuel Macron to accuse Rome of “cynicism and irresponsibility”.

Italian PM Conte slams French 'hypocrisy' in migrant convoy clash

Italy forged ahead with plans to send hundreds of migrants to Spain in a small naval convoy on Tuesday (12 June) after shutting its own ports to them, sparking a war of words with France that exposed EU tensions over immigration.

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