Charter flights are to be used to repatriate failed asylum-seekers and other illegal immigrants under a new €30m (£20m) initiative announced by EU ministers.
A new European agency for border control will co-ordinate returns by EU member states in an effort to help stem the rising numbers of economic migrants crossing borders.
While control of the repatriation policy will remain with national governments, the agency will arrange charter flights if groups of countries have sufficient numbers of people to return to make economic sense.
The plan was approved by EU justice and home affairs ministers after a meeting in Dublin which ended last night. The European Commission yesterday confirmed that the new EU agency will have a €30m budget for 2005-6. But it stressed that it would try to lay down terms and conditions under which those who lost asylum cases are returned to their country of origin.
"We are trying to lay down minimum standards of treatment," said Pietro Petrucci, spokesman for the European Commissioner for justice and home affairs, Antonio Vitorino. "Once we were asked to be involved we have sought fair ways to do it."
The frequency and destination of the charter flights will depend on demand from member states. In total the 15 EU member states are thought to repatriate, or refuse entry, to around 300,000 people each year. Germany, the UK and Spain are the biggest destinations for asylum-seekers. But, because of the ease with which people can move across borders in Europe, the issue of illegal immigration is seen as one that has to be dealt with at an international level. The EU will admit 10 new member states in May, shifting its border further east.
The EU has already negotiated agreements with four countries which undertake to accept back their nationals. These are Sri Lanka, Albania, Macau and Hong Kong. Similar deals are being sought with Morocco, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, China, Pakistan and Algeria.
But the return of illegal immigrants is not restricted to these nations since national governments within the EU have a host of agreements with developing countries. In addition to the €30m being spent on the border control agency, the European Commission has a further €250m to spend on co-operating with third countries on immigration issues. This cash is usually spent in providing help to the nations in exchange for their agreement to re-admit their nationals.
At yesterday's meeting in Dublin, ministers gave a cool response to a proposal to set up a European evidence warrant, which would help magistrates share cross-border evidence on everything from bank accounts to telephone records.
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