Senior officials from Spain, Greece, Italy, Malta and Cyprus – which receive most migrant arrivals from the bloc’s southern and southeastern borders – said they would present the idea to EU leaders later this month to set up asylum centers in neighboring countries from which successful applicants can reach Europe safely.
Such centers would help reduce the allure of smugglers, allowing people with legitimate fears for their safety in their country of origin to travel safely to European countries that have accepted their asylum applications.
“We wasted so much time making statements and endless finger pointing. Meanwhile, children and adults continue to lose their lives as we ignore the elephant in the room,” said Maltese Home Minister Byron Camilleri. “How long will it take us Europeans to admit that the only way to save lives is to eradicate human trafficking once and for all?”
Greece’s Minister for Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, said Frontex needed more resources because “when the borders are well-protected and well-monitored, the loss of life drops significantly”.
Mitarachi’s remarks came after back-to-back shipwrecks off the Greek islands of Lesbos and Kythera this week left at least 23 people dead. The Greek minister again urged European authorities to demand that Turkey better control its borders and take stronger action against human traffickers.
Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska Gomez said Frontex must work with authorities in third countries to prevent departures of boats laden with migrants.
Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris has expressed concern about an increase in arrivals of economic migrants amid growing economic difficulties abroad and Russia’s war in Ukraine. According to him, “it is time” that third countries which do not accept citizens whose asylum applications have been rejected be subject to sanctions.
“It is completely unacceptable to us for a country to refuse the return of its own citizens,” Nouris said.
Figures from the Cypriot Interior Ministry show that of the 27,000 migrants who have reached ethnically divided Cyprus over the past two years, 6% have arrived by boat while 94% have passed through a UN-controlled buffer zone since the separatist northern third.
Nouris traveled to UN headquarters in New York last week to seek the world body’s help in preventing such crossings.
Ministers again urged the EU to adopt a fairer relocation policy for migrants so that the burden does not fall primarily on southern EU countries.
“We need to send a strong message that Europe will be open. Europe will always have the values that identify us and provide a safe haven for those in need,” Mitarachi said. “But we have to do it in an organized, coordinated and legal way and not allow… smugglers to make that choice for us.”