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EU considers plans to curb irregular migration

January 26, 2023

Sweden has proposed leveraging aid and visas to facilitate deportations to uncooperative nations. Germany, meanwhile, has proposed sealing bilateral agreements with certain countries to allow a legal route to the bloc.

Sweden's Minister for Migration, Maria Malmer Stenergard, left and Minister for Justice Gunnar Strommer, right, pose for a photo with Germany's Interior Minister, Nancy Faeser
Ministers from Sweden and Germany put forward different approaches to immigration into the EUImage: Pontus Lundahl/TT News Agency/AP/picture alliance

Interior ministers of the EU's 27 member states met in Stockholm on Thursday to discuss options for curbing irregular immigration and increasing deportations.

Ministers considered various options including border fences, asylum centers outside the EU and punitive measures against nations refusing to re-admit citizens who have lost their asylum bids within the bloc.

"Returning those who have been denied asylum in Europe is a really important issue," Maria Malmer Stenergard, Sweden's migration minister, said.

Sweden, which is currently holding the rotating EU presidency, has argued that the EU should use the threat of limiting visas, or even leveraging aid, to pressure uncooperative third countries.

Citizens of Gambia, for example, face costly visa applications after their country refused to take back its nationals or didn't provide them with the necessary papers. The bloc has also considered taking similar steps against Bangladesh and Iraq.

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Members taking different approaches

Austria is calling for a €2 billion (around $2.1 billion) fence along the EU's border between Bulgaria and Turkey — and Chancellor Karl Nehammer says he wants the European Commission to pay for it.

The Commission has instead stressed the role of the bloc's Frontex border force. The chair of the European Parliament's Justice and Home Affairs committee, Juan Fernando Lopez, said that "a fence might be part of an extraordinary measure... but never the solution itself."

Denmark has been in talks with Rwanda about setting up a way to handle regional asylum claims there.

"We are still working to make that happen, preferably with other European countries but, as a last resort, we'll do it only in cooperation between Denmark and, for example, Rwanda," Immigration Minister Kaare Dybvad said on Thursday.

But Germany wants to pursue agreements that would help establish ways to bolster its much-needed workforce.

"We want to conclude migration agreements with countries, particularly with North African countries, that would allow a legal route to Germany but would also include functioning returns," Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in Stockholm.

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Number of people migrating to EU increasing

The issue of migration has become more contentious in the bloc in recent years, especially the question of which countries will take migrants in.

Frontex reported that around 330,000 arrived unauthorized in the EU last year, the highest number since 2016.

European Commission statistics show that the number of orders to return migrants to their home country that are actually carried out remains relatively low. In 2021 it stood at just 21%.

"We have a huge increase of irregular arrivals of migrants," Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said. "We have a very low return rate and I can see we can make significant progress here."

ab/nm (AFP, Reuters)