BRUSSELS: Fifteen EU states want “new ways” to handle irregular migrants, including sending some to third countries, in a demand made as the bloc plots out how to implement a recently adopted overhaul of its asylum rules.

The countries presented their joint stance in a letter dated May 15 to the European Commission, which was made public on Thursday. It was sent less than a month before European Parliament elections across the 27-nation European Union, in which far-right anti-immigration parties are forecast to make gains.

Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania signed the letter.

In it, they ask the European Union’s executive arm to “propose new ways and solutions to prevent irregular migration to Europe”. They want the EU to toughen its asylum and migration pact, which introduces tighter border controls and seeks to expedite the deportation of rejected asylum-seekers. The pact, to be operational from 2026, will speed up the vetting of people arriving without documents and establish new border detention centres.

The 15 countries also want to see mechanisms to detect and intercept migrant boats and take them “to a predetermined place of safety in a partner country outside the EU, where durable solutions for those migrants could be found”. They said it should be easier to send asylum seekers to third countries while their requests for protection are assessed.

They cited as a model a controversial deal Italy has struck with Albania, under which thousands of asylum-seekers picked up at sea can be taken to holding camps in the non-EU Balkan country as their cases are processed.

The European Commission said it would study the letter, though a spokeswoman, Anitta Hipper, added that “all our work and focus is set now on the implementation” of the migration and asylum pact.

EU law says people entering the bloc without documents can be sent to an outside country where they could have requested asylum — so long as that country is deemed safe and the applicant has a genuine link with it.

That condition differentiates it from a scheme set up by non-EU Britain under which irregular arrivals will be denied the right to request asylum in the UK and sent instead to Rwanda.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2024

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