The European Commission (EC) on Wednesday announced plans to penalize citizens from countries that refuse to take back illegal migrants by restricting visas.
Under new rules proposed by the EC, countries that fail to cooperate on illegal migrant returns could face a restrictive visa policy. The restrictions may include longer visa processing times, higher costs, fewer exemptions given to visiting diplomats or greater restrictions on the length of time they can stay in the EU.
"The new rules will provide for a regular assessment by the Commission of non-EU countries' cooperation on return," the Commission said.
EU countries have had difficultly repatriating migrants who do not qualify for asylum or people who overstay their visas. Under international law, the EU is required to settle people fleeing from war or persecution, but does not have to take in economic migrants.
Member states and the EU have offered monetary incentives for voluntary returns and aid to third countries that take back their nationals, but without the desired outcomes.
"Readmission of own nationals is an obligation under international law," EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters in Brussels. "I cannot understand how a country can refuse to take back its nationals."
"We will introduce stricter conditions for processing visas when a partner country does not cooperate sufficiently on the readmission of irregular migrants," Avramopoulos added.
Warning aimed mainly at African states
Only about half of rejected migrants have been deported or voluntarily returned to their home countries.
Complicating repatriation, some asylum seekers do not have identification papers or obfuscate their country of origin.
Several African countries have refused to take their nationals back, impeding deportations and prompting EU leaders last year to agree to use visa policy as leverage.
"Countries like Mali, Senegal or Ivory Coast cooperate very little," an EU official told the AFP news agency. "We must fight to obtain the famous consular pass (to return a migrant to his country) and that undermines the ties of trust we must have with these countries."
France, for example, has long complained that Mali refuses to take back individuals Paris insists are from the west African country.
Avramopoulos also announced Wednesday that he would shortly travel to Niger — a major transit hub for migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa crossing into Europe via Libya — to talk to regional leaders and try to "convince these countries to take back their nationals."
The Commission's proposal to penalize countries with visa restrictions needs approval from the European Parliament and member states.
The EC said that roughly 14 million tourist and business visas were issued in 2016, granting stays of up to 90 days. Under current EU rules, nationals from 105 countries require a visa to travel freely within the EU's Schengen zone.
dm, cw/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)