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Europe

EU Debates German Refugee Camp Plans

EU justice and interior ministers convene in The Hague on Friday to discuss plans put forward by Germany's Otto Schily which would create transit camps in Africa for refugees wishing to enter Europe.

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Not all of Europe sees eye-to-eye with the German Interior Minister

German Interior Minister Otto Schily is expected to take a hard line when he outlines his proposal to set up transit centers in North Africa where EU nations could process refugees and weed out any illegal immigrants trying to get into Europe. Schily will present his proposal to his fellow EU justice and interior ministers during a full debate on the issue in The Hague on Friday.

"We need to think about preventing illegal immigration more forcefully," Schily told reporters Thursday, but refused to go further before briefing his EU colleagues. "We can either wait until the problems come to Europe or we can go actively after the problems and try to solve them. I am for the latter."

"If there are better proposals, I am open to them, but let's start the debate," Schily added.

Schily argued that EU officials could assess applicants at immigrant processing camps outside EU borders, possibly in Libya or Ukraine before they set foot on the continent as a way of helping stem illegal immigration across the Mediterranean.

Visa policy and extended powers proposed

The proposals also include setting up a common visa policy, boosting powers of the EU's police agency Europol, and improving crisis management coordination in case of terrorist attacks. There are also plans to set up an EU Internal Security Committee, which would coordinate operational activities of law enforcement agencies across the EU, including police and border guards.

Flüchtlinge auf Cap Anamur

Sudanese immigrants appear from the German Cap Anamur.

German officials, backed by Italy, first proposed the idea during the summer after a German aid agency's ship, the Cap Anamur, was detained off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa with 37 African asylum seekers on board. Despite general backing for the idea among EU members, Schily's tone has caused some European Union officials to react cautiously to the proposal.

Concern from EU ministers

Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell told reporters that he wanted a full justification from the Germans as to why such camps were necessary. "These are issues we have to proceed slowly and cautiously on," he said, but added that EU ministers should approach the idea with an "open mind."

McDowell added that the EU should look urgently at dealing with the flow of illegal immigrants, specifically those who use Italy as a gateway to enter Europe from Northern Africa. "There is still a significant pattern. Lives are being lost. The Italian government has a clear interest in the matter," he said.

EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino and Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner, who was hosting the talks, refused to say how much support Schily's plan might have. "We may have some controversy to some extent," Donner said ahead of the debate.

Human rights of proposed hosts questioned

Logo Amnesty International

Amnesty International have concerns over human rights in proposed host countries.

The controversy is already underway. The proposals have already come under fire from Amnesty International and the United Nation's refugee agency who are concerned that the camps could do more harm than good.

The claim is that the countries being proposed for the location of camps do not themselves live up to international human rights standards and cannot be expected to safely house asylum seekers. "Our main concern is the legal protection of these people," said Daphne Bouteillet from Amnesty International in a statement.

Several African countries, including Libya and Kenya, have been touted as host countries for the suggested camps, while Ukraine has been mentioned as a possible host country to handle refugees fleeing the conflict in Chechnya.

The EU is divided over the issue. While Britain, Poland and Austria have voiced support for the idea of North African refugee camps, France and Sweden argue that it goes too far. A similar proposal made by British Prime Minister Tony Blair last year was rejected by many EU nations fearing the plans were too extreme and could infringe upon the rights of asylum seekers.

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