Planned new centres around the Mediterranean to handle migrants will be no silver bullet solution to the European Union’s immigration challenge, said a UN agency of the concept it will be asked to implement.
Irregular migration by boat has dramatically reduced and only about 45,000 people made it to Europe that way this year. The migration issue is currently driving the EU political agenda.
Last week, EU states agreed to tighten external borders and spend more in the Middle East and North Africa to bring down arrivals.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, trying to save her coalition, agreed to set up migrant camps on the German border, highlighting how the EU is unable to agree on joint migration policies with governments increasingly go it alone.
EU leaders agreed to look at setting up “disembarkation platforms” to handle those rescued from the crossing. Most are brought ashore in Italy with more than 1,300 people dying this year.
“The Mediterranean is a shared space, north-south. We have a joint responsibility to govern what happens in that space, including avoiding that people drown,” Eugenio Ambrosi, the head of the International Organisation for Migration’s (IOM) EU mission told Reuters.
The IOM and its sister UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) would run the new sites.
Ambrosi said 10 existing migrant centres in Greece and Italy could first be beefed up and new ones then be added in Malta. Opening others on the southern rim of the Mediterranean – as some EU states want – would take time.
“Before going outside Europe, asking other countries to help, we have to make sure enough European countries help each other,” Ambrosi said.
Eventually, depending on where in the Mediterranean they were rescued, people would be taken to EU or African centres.
The much-publicised Mediterranean camps concept would only work with opening up more legal ways to get to Europe from non-EU countries, Ambrosi said.
EU states would share out legitimate asylum seekers from the centres, an idea that has divided them bitterly since 2015.
More than a million people entered the EU in 2015, overwhelming Italy, Greece and Germany, eastern nations led by Poland and Hungary refused to help by taking in a share.
With this internal dispute still festering, the EU will turn to Tunisia and Morocco to host new sites. The African countries have a good opportunity to bargain hard.
Ambrosi opposed locating migrant centres in strife-torn Libya and said populists in the EU failed to recognise how far the number of arrivals dropped since 2015.
“It’s not a migration issue, it’s a political and functioning-of-the-EU issue,” he said. “There is no quick fix, there has never been.”