The European Union immigration chief accused EU governments of allowing xenophobic sentiments in Europe to dictate immigration policy and failing to protect refugees from North Africa.
On the eve of an EU summit in Brussels where leaders of the bloc’s 27 governments will discuss immigration, Cecilia Malmstrom urged them to make more efforts to resettle people fleeing turmoil and to improve Europe’s asylum provisions.
“In recent years, we have witnessed growing support for populist movements in the EU. In my areas of responsibility — asylum, migration, integration and border cooperation — I can see that xenophobia is on the rise,” she said in a statement, Reuters reports.
An outpouring of people fleeing violence in Libya, coupled with economic austerity and a rise of nationalist groupings in many EU countries, has fanned a debate in Europe in recent months over immigration.
EU governments have questioned both how much responsibility individual member states should bear for Europe-bound migrants, and the feasibility of unrestricted travel throughout the bloc.
France and Italy have called for greater freedom to reintroduce borders within the EU, a move that would make it easier to block migrants from slipping into European countries.
EU leaders are expected at this week’s summit to clear the way for such measures.
They will also set out plans to improve cooperation among governments on the equipment and procedures they use to safeguard external borders.
EU governments are set to launch talks with North African states on long-term policy, attempting to agree how countries such as Tunisia and Egypt might curb illegal emigration and in return secure better access to jobs in the EU for legal workers and other travellers.
They will also pledge to push a reform of EU asylum rules, which critics say are complicated and uneven.
But Malmstrom said such plans were not enough and told the bloc’s governments to extend more help to the region.
“Political leaders all over Europe have been quick to condemn violence … and to congratulate our Northern African neighbours in their fight for democracy and freedom,” she said.
“But when it comes to dealing with the consequences of these developments, and particularly when it comes to dealing with the men, women and children coming to Europe for protection or in search of a better life, European leaders have not been as supportive,” she said.
Malmstrom has so far failed to convince EU capitals to take in some 15,000 people who have fled from North Africa.
“EU member states altogether have so far committed to give protection to some 800 people,” she said.