EU nations left to themselves as criminals profit from migrants

Hungarian Foreign Minister discusses migrant crisis in Europe

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EU institution leaders are being urged by Italian politicians to come up with “clear and effective answers” to the migration crisis as criminal smugglers continue to profit from desperate people making dangerous journeys in the Mediterranean to reach Europe.

In a note sent to, Italian Lega MEP Annalisa Tardino said: “Lega is demanding, both at domestic and at European levels, for a clear crackdown on illegal immigration and also a tightening on the activity of NGOs, which too often collaborate with criminals who profit from human beings.

“The scenario that emerges from the investigative activities is that of trafficking in illegal immigrants, with immigrants who allegedly reported violence perpetrated by an international criminal network.

“It is good to keep our guard up on the phenomenon, also at a political level: the new government has finally raised the attention in Italy and in the EU on an issue on which our country has too often been left to itself.

“Starting with the ban on landing and landing in Italy for foreign NGOs, a clear change of pace. Now, however, we also need a clear signal from Brussels, from which we have been waiting for clear, concrete and effective answers for too long.”

EU leaders are set to discuss migration at next week’s Council summit.

About 330,000 attempts were made to enter Europe without authorisation in 2022 — a six-year high. The International Organisation for Migration says more than 25,000 people have died or gone missing trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea since 2014.

At their February 9-10 summit, the EU’s 27 heads of state and government are set to renew a call to beef up borders and pressure the often-impoverished countries that people leave or cross to get to Europe, according to a draft statement prepared for the meeting.

The leaders will give “full support” so that the border and coastguard agency Frontex can deliver “on its core task, which is to help Member States protect the external borders, fight cross-border crime and step up returns” – the EU’s euphemism for deportation.

The EU will “enhance cooperation with countries of origin and transit through mutually beneficial partnerships,” said the text, which could change before the summit. It did not list the ways the partnerships might be beneficial for those countries, only the means of persuasion that could be used on them.

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The EU’s aid budget should be put to “the best possible use” to encourage countries to stop people leaving, it said. Those that don’t accept their nationals back would find it harder to get European visas. Bangladesh, Gambia, Iraq and Senegal are already being monitored.

After a meeting last week of interior ministers, the EU’s Swedish presidency said that “both positive incentives and restrictive measures are required. We must make use of all relevant policy areas in this regard, such as visa policy, development cooperation, trade and diplomatic relations.”

Border fences are back on the table, even though the European Commission previously declined to help member countries pay for them, arguing they were not in line with “European values.” Several EU countries, notably Hungary, Austria and Slovenia, have erected border fences after well over one million migrants entered Europe in 2015, most of them war refugees from Syria and Iraq.

A Dutch government position paper circulating in Brussels said that “all types of stationary and mobile infrastructure should be part of a broader package of border management measures, while guaranteeing fundamental rights as enshrined in EU and international law.”

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The land border between EU member Bulgaria and Turkey, from where many migrants set out, is of particular concern. Asked about it last Thursday, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said only that there isn’t enough money to help countries build fences.

The Commission wants to speed up asylum processing at the bloc’s borders, and has named a “Returns Coordinator” to expedite deportation. More than 900,000 people applied for EU asylum last year, sparking a border backlog.

In a letter to the leaders, President Ursula von der Leyen said that pilot testing will be done in coming months on “an accelerated border procedure,” including the “immediate return” of those not permitted to stay.

This “Fortress Europe” approach has evolved because of the EU’s failure to agree on the answer to a vexing question: who should take responsibility for migrants and refugees arriving in Europe, and should other members be obliged to help?

The question has rarely arisen over the last year as millions of Ukrainian refugees were welcomed into Europe amid an outpouring of good will, notably from countries like Hungary or Poland that are staunchly opposed to helping take care of migrants from Africa or the Middle East.

The commission’s Pact on Migration and Asylum, unveiled in 2020, was supposed to resolve the problem but little progress has been made. Now, EU officials say that members might endorse the reform plan before the 2024 elections usher in another commission.

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