May 24. 2024. 5:30

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Migration ministers promise to agree asylum bill stance by June

EU migration ministers have vowed to agree on a common position on two key files in the proposed Immigration and Asylum Pact in a bid to finally overhaul the bloc’s rules before next May’s European elections.

Speaking with reporters following a meeting of EU interior ministers on Thursday (9 March), Swedish Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard, who chairs the rotating Council presidency, said that ministers were “committed to making substantial progress” on laws dealing with asylum and migration management and asylum procedure.

“Our aim is to agree a council position at our next meeting in June with a view to opening negotiations with the European Parliament,” she added.

Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for Home Affairs, added that there was “strong commitment from almost all ministers to adopt the whole pact before the end of this mandate”.

Johansson said that the Commission would present a European integrated border management strategy next week to address one of the main bottlenecks that have made it easy for asylum seekers to submit applications in more than one state.

Ahead of the ministers’ meeting, six EU countries – France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands – and Switzerland, which is also a signatory to the Dublin Regulation, signed a joint statement on Wednesday expressing their concern over asylum seekers coming to their countries from the EU countries they first arrived in.

They called for the existing rules to be respected and “reaffirmed their commitment to structurally reform” the Dublin rules, establishing the Member State responsible for examining an asylum application.

In December, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing Italian government temporarily suspended the rules on the grounds that reception centres were overstretched.

At the meeting on Thursday, several ministers pointed the finger at Italy as the worst offender, and Stenergard confirmed that the issue had been discussed.

“It will take some years for the new system to be in place, and in the meantime, it is crucial that the current system works,” she said.

Migration control has returned to the top of the EU’s policy agenda in recent months following an increase in irregular migration.

Last month, EU leaders agreed to step up negotiations with third countries, primarily in North Africa, on returning and repatriating failed asylum seekers and threatening the suspension of aid, trade access and visa agreements to states who refuse to cooperate.

The bloc “must make use of all tools, incentives and leverages in this regard,” said Stenergard.

Johansson also sought to play down the scale of illegal migration, pointing out that 99% of all migrants that come to the EU come legally and that the bloc issued 3 million residents permits last year.

However, immigration authorities across the EU are struggling to cope with an increase to 330,000 irregular migrant arrivals last year and 1 million asylum applications. Johannson pointed out that 200,000 people had come from countries with visa-free status and applied for asylum, describing this as “an abuse of the system”.

In a letter to Meloni earlier this week, following the shipwreck of the Calabrian coast, which killed more than 60 people, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen praised “the work done by Italy and others to offer safe and legal pathways to vulnerable people through humanitarian corridors makes a vital contribution.”

The EU will also hold a Resettlement Forum in May to look at “how to continue supporting at the EU level Italy’s experience with humanitarian corridors.”

Elsewhere, Johansson addressed the Illegal Migration bill tabled by the UK government earlier this week, warning that the proposal “might be a violation of international law and the UN refugee convention”. The bill would allow the UK authorities to detain and return irregular migrants.

For her part, Stenergard remarked that the UK bill and similar ideas were “a sign of frustration that the current system is not working well”.