STOCKHOLM, Jan. 26 (Reuters) – European Union migration ministers are meeting on Thursday to discuss visa restrictions and better coordination within the bloc to help more people without asylum in Europe return to their home countries, including Iraq.
Three years after the 27-nation EU agreed to limit visa requirements for countries deemed uncooperative in taking back their people, only The Gambia has been formally punished.
The EU’s executive European Commission suggested similar steps towards Iraq, Senegal and Bangladesh, although two EU officials said cooperation with Dhaka on returning people has since improved.
Still, the EU’s overall effective return rate in 2021 was 21%, according to the latest Eurostat data.
“That is a level that member states consider unacceptably low,” said one of the EU officials.
Immigration is a highly politically sensitive topic in the bloc, with member states much more willing to talk about stepping up returns and curbing irregular immigration in the first place than rekindling their bitter feuds over how to divide the burden of take care of those who make money. to Europe and win the right to stay.
“Establishing an effective and common EU return system is a central pillar of well-functioning and credible migration and asylum systems,” the Commission said in a discussion paper for ministers, seen by Reuters.
By 2022, according to UN data, about 160,000 people will have crossed the Mediterranean Sea, the main route to Europe for people fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. In addition, nearly 8 million Ukrainian refugees were registered across Europe.
Ministers will meet two weeks before the 27 national EU leaders meet in Brussels to discuss migration, and are also expected to call for more people to be sent away.
“Rapid action is needed to ensure the effective return of the European Union to countries of origin, leveraging all relevant EU policies,” read a draft of their joint statement, which was also viewed by Reuters.
However, within the EU, according to the Commission, there are insufficient resources and coordination between different government departments to ensure that anyone who has no right to stay is actually returned or deported.
“Insufficient cooperation from countries of origin is an additional challenge,” it added, citing difficulties including recognizing and issuing identity and travel documents.
But pressure from migration chiefs to penalize some third countries with visa restrictions has in the past run counter to the EU’s own foreign and development ministers, or failed because of conflicting agendas from different EU countries.
There is therefore so far not enough majority among EU countries to penalize any country other than The Gambia, where people can no longer get multiple entry visas for the bloc and have to wait longer.
While EU countries, including Austria and Hungary, are loudly protesting against predominantly Muslim, irregular immigration from the Middle East and North Africa, Germany is among those seeking to open up their labor market to much-needed workers from outside the bloc.
Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; edited by Jonathan Oatis
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