The European Commission has denied Monday that it had any plans to propose EU countries set up camps in Africa to handle asylum-seekers as a row raged in the German government over such a suggestion.
Refugees will continue to arrive on Europe's shores for the time being
German Interior Minister Otto Schily has been roundly criticized by his colleague in the foreign ministry, Joschka Fisher, for proposing the creation of such camps.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder meanwhile called the proposal "an important initiative," according to a government spokesman.
The European Union's executive arm, for its part, acknowledged that it was working on ideas for the EU to come to speedier aid of countries near hotspots which struggle to cope with a sudden influx of refugees.
The "reflection" on the EU debate on asylum-seekers was launched in June last year by the EU's justice and home affairs commissioner, Antonio Vitorino, to recognize the reality that most refugees do not make it as far as Europe.
The idea would be to work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on ways to protect refugees in host countries through "training of personnel, infrastructure to welcome them etc", said a source in Vitorino's department.
But the commission has no plans to jettison the "cardinal" principle that asylum-seekers who do make it to European shores should have their claims for refuge dealt with in Europe, the source said.
No automatic right to asylum
German Interior Minister Otto Schily
In defence of his contentious proposals, Schily (photo) has said people who put their fates in the hands of traffickers or set out to sea in "nutshells" should not be deluded that they automatically have the right to arrive in Europe.
He also said the German basic right to be granted asylum did not hold up for refugees coming to EU asylum centers in Africa. Members of the government's junior coalition partner, the Greens, as well as the neoliberal Free Democrats, who are in opposition, had harshly criticized Schily's remarks.
Schily identified Tunisia as one place where African asylum-seekers could be encamped to have their claims for European refuge processed.
The German minister's suggestion echoes plans put forward by Britain to its EU partners last year for asylum-seekers to be processed in "protection zones" outside the bloc. But the British government backed down after failing to receive much support from the rest of the EU for the plan, which Amnesty International had condemned as "unlawful and unworkable."