EU ministers fail to reach agreement on proposals for asylum-seekers fleeing war and persecution

It is hoped the setting up of centres in North Africa and the Middle East where people can request refugee status will lessen the numbers risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean

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The Independent Online

European Union ministers have failed to agree on new proposals to allow people fleeing war and persecution to apply for asylum from outside the EU, despite warnings of a record number expected to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean this year.

The European Commissioner for Migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said last week that they were considering setting up centres in North Africa and the Middle East so that people can request refugee status and resettlement in Europe from third countries.

This would lessen the numbers making the illicit crossing, which claimed more than 3,000 lives last year. Italy, where most of the migrants arrive, is also pushing the plan. “It’s about a humanitarian mission which would allow Europe to do screening and to dismantle a huge human trafficking market,” said Italy’s Interior Minister, Angelino Alfano. However the proposals, which will be presented by the Commission in May, will require the backing of the 28 members states and, with anti-immigrant sentiment soaring in some nations, there is scepticism that the policy will get the support it needs.

“We do not have a common position between all the member states yet,” Rihards Kozlovskis, the Interior Minister of Latvia, said. Mr Avramopoulos called the proposals a “long-term project” and said that first they must “establish trust among member states”. But rights groups stress the urgency of finding a solution ahead of the summer when hundreds of thousands are expected to attempt the dangerous sea journey. Many are from Syria, where the conflict has forced 3.9 million people to flee.

Last year an Italian operation rescued at least 150,000 people in the Mediterranean, but it has been replaced by a more limited operation run by the EU border agency Frontex. Last week the head of Frontex warned that up to a million people could try to reach Europe this year. 

“It’s basic but alarming mathematics,” said Amnesty International’s European institutions director, Iverna McGowan. “As the number goes up, and the resources into search and rescue go down, more people are dying.”