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story.lead_photo.caption In this Wednesday, June 20, 2018 photo, released by the Libyan coast guard, African migrants who were found on a damaged rubber boat in the Mediterranean Sea and rescued by the Libyan coast guard rest on the shore, east of the capital, Tripoli, Libya. The coast guard said it rescued some 82 African migrants, including four women and two children, and recovered one body. (Libyan Coast Guard via AP)

BRUSSELS -- Unwilling to share responsibility for tens of thousands of people arriving each year in search of better or safer lives, European Union leaders are preparing in coming days to take more steps to keep migrants out.

In talks over the next week, EU leaders will affirm their intention to stop migrants leaving north African shores by paying countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia to hold people until their eligibility for asylum can be established.

The leaders will back the creation of "regional disembarkation platforms." Essentially, people striking out for Italy in unseaworthy boats could be taken back -- for instance, to Libya if picked up by the EU-financed and trained Libyan coast guard -- or transported to neighboring countries for screening.

These platforms "should provide for rapid processing to distinguish between economic migrants and those in need of international protection, and reduce the incentive to embark on perilous journeys," according to a draft statement prepared for the June 28-29 EU summit in Brussels.

This will be done, the statement said, in close cooperation with the U.N. refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration. Both organizations have been discussing ways to handle sea arrivals inside the EU, but not in Africa, although they do work in Libya. No African country has yet agreed to take part, the EU's top migration official said Thursday.

Several EU leaders are also to hold emergency migration talks in Brussels on Sunday to prepare for next week's summit.

However, leaders from four countries in Eastern Europe will not be attending the meeting.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Thursday that all four members of the Visegrad Group -- also including Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic -- would skip the talks.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that since his country opposes a plan to redistribute asylum-seekers among the European Union countries, "we do not intend to take part in this process."

It's all happening as the number of people arriving in Europe by boat decreases. The U.N. refugee agency says that if current trends continue, some 80,000 people will enter via the Mediterranean Sea this year, mostly in Italy, Greece and Spain. That's around half the number who arrived in 2017.

"We do not have a crisis of numbers. We continue to have a crisis of political will," United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Europe chief Sophie Magennis said Monday.

Europe's divisions over migration and the state of its inadequate asylum laws were exposed again last week by a row involving Italy, Malta and France over who should take responsibility for more than 600 people, including children and pregnant women, rescued from the sea off Libya.

Spain eventually offered safe harbor to the rescue ship carrying them.

Similarly, Italy's hard-line interior minister said Thursday that he will not allow a Dutch-flagged boat that rescued some 200 migrants to land in Italy.

Matteo Salvini said the ship Lifeline rescued 224 migrants in Libyan waters, after the Italian coast guard had told the ship to defer to the Libyan coast guard. Salvini said that he had contacted the Dutch ambassador about the ship's activities, adding "they will only see Italy on the map."

Lifeline, operated by a German aid group, said it conducted the rescue in international waters, and asked for a safe port but was not told where the ship could land. It added: "We are sailing northward."

Concerned that anti-migrant parties will exploit divisions, the Europeans are looking to outsource the challenge, much as they did by persuading Turkey to tighten its borders. Anti-migrant parties have been winning votes since over 1 million people entered the EU in 2015, most fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq.

"The problem didn't start just a few kilometers off the Italian coast," French President Emmanuel Macron said this week. The answer, he said, lies in working with "countries of origin and transit, whether that be in Africa or elsewhere."

On Tuesday, EU countries agreed to change the rules governing Europe's passport-free travel zone, known as the Schengen area. The move will allow countries to carry out ID checks on people for longer than allowed under current rules.

Ultimately, the EU's aim is to promote action after a series of responses by individual countries -- like building fences, deploying troops, introducing border checks or simply keeping them open -- sparked confusion and tension among EU partners.

"Unilateral measures on migration are just not the answer. Not only would they not work, but they would also damage everything the European Union has built," EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Thursday. "And our Schengen area of free movement most of all."

Information for this article was contributed by staff members of The Associated Press.

A Section on 06/22/2018

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