SHARE
COPY LINK

IMMIGRATION

Spain may be new migrant hotspot, EU border agency chief warns

The head of the EU's border agency warned Sunday the western Mediterranean route from Morocco to Spain might develop into the next key pathway for migrants seeking to reach Europe.

Spain may be new migrant hotspot, EU border agency chief warns
Photo: AFP

“If you ask me what is my current biggest worry, I would say Spain,” Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

Data released by the International Organisation for Migration showed that migrants arriving in Spain numbered 6,513 for first six months of 2017.

In comparison, Leggeri said 6,000 irregular arrivals in Spain were recorded in June this year alone.

“If the numbers keep rising like they are now, then this route will become the most significant,” said Leggeri.

Italy and Greece have until now recorded the biggest numbers of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach the European Union.

But with the route through Libya shutting down as the Libyan coast guard increases patrols, people smugglers are setting their sights westward.

IOM data showed that arrivals on the Spain coastline leapt almost three-fold from 2016 to around 22,000 in 2017.

Around half of the migrants are Moroccans, while others came from west African countries, said Leggeri.

EU member states last week reached a controversial plan to curb migrant and refugee arrivals from Africa and the Middle East.

The deal includes the creation of secure centres for migrants in the bloc, “disembarkation platforms” outside the EU and sharing out refugees among member states.

The accord came after Italy's new populist government pushed the issue to the forefront of the EU agenda by refusing to open the country's ports to migrant rescue ships.

POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

SHOW COMMENTS