Europe struggles to make progress in migration quagmire
BRUSSELS (AP) — Europe continued its decade-old struggle Thursday to devise a migration system that would both better protect its extensive borders and avoid tragedies like last month's shipwreck off Italy, which killed at least 70 migrants.
Interior ministers from the European Union's 27 members remained mired in technical talks that aim to revamp the bloc's migration and asylum system by spring 2024 — at the earliest.
“As you can see, this is not moving fast enough when we look at the tragic events in Italy a few days ago,” said Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner.
In Europe, humanitarian tragedies and the plight of people fleeing persecution in countries like Afghanistan and Syria often take second seat to populist rhetoric about overcrowding, loss of national identity and the cost of housing migrants.
Every now and then though, a disaster like the Feb. 26 sinking off southern Italy’s Cutro beach briefly focuses minds again. Italy’s government is even having a cabinet meeting on Thursday close to the shipwreck site, discussing a decree to counter illegal migration on one of the deadliest routes across the Mediterranean.
Hours before the Italian cabinet session, at least 14 Africans died and 54 were rescued when a boat in which they were trying to reach Europe sank off Tunisia.
At an EU level, progress has been particularly slow, even though accidents like the 2013 sinking off Italy’s Lampedusa island that killed over 300 people had raised expectations that its nations might move faster.
“Of course, time is of the essence,” the EU Commission’s migration chief, Ylva Johansson, said Thursday.
Coming up quickly with effective and legally-sound plans is a huge challenge, especially since unauthorized entries into the bloc, which stood at 330,000 in 2022, have reached a six-year high.
Britain, where Immigration Minister Suella Braverman is using terms like “invasion” and “enough is enough,” is now seeking to push through legislation at a much quicker pace to stop thousands crossing the English Channel from France.
The plan — "you enter Britain illegally, you will be detained and swiftly removed," in Braverman's words — has drawn international criticism for not giving people a fair shot at seeking asylum. The EU's Johansson joined in on Thursday.
“My immediate reaction is to question whether this is in line with international obligations,” she said, aligning herself with the UN refugee agency that says it amounts to an “asylum ban” and a clear breach of the U.N. refugee convention.
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Raf Casert, The Associated Press