The EU has unveiled radical plans to tighten patrols of its sea borders in a bid to prevent the death of migrants seeking to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean.
Every year many hundreds of migrants cross the Mediterranean in an attempt to reach Europe’s shores. In October this year, over 360 of these people drowned after the boat they were travelling in capsized close to the small Italian island of Lampedusa.
It was the most recent and deadly of the many accidents that have beset would-be immigrants to the EU in recent years as they attempt to cross the waters separating Africa from Europe.
To minimise the risk of a repeat, the Commission has suggested that migrants should be able to apply for asylum in the EU from abroad – to discourage them from undertaking often perilous journeys to reach Europe.
Current EU policy requires asylum-seekers, many of whom are escaping war or persecution in their native countries, to be on European soil before applying for refugee status.
The proposal would see Frontex, the EU’s border agency, using the vessels of EU member countries to patrol the seas between Cyprus and Spain and would cost around €14m a year.
As well as preventing deaths at sea, the Commission hopes the plan will lead to more arrests of people smugglers. The increased patrolling should also help combat human trafficking and organised crime.
The EU’s executive arm has also proposed providing administrative help to member countries struggling to cope with large numbers of asylum applications.
Another suggestion is for member countries to receive €6,000 for each refugee that they resettle. This would encourage EU countries to, for example, airlift refugees directly from asylum camps or conflict zones.
The Commission has also called for agreements to be made to manage migration jointly with non-EU countries, particularly those in North Africa, through which many migrants travel to reach Europe.
EU justice and home affairs ministers are set to discuss the new initiative this week, before a final decision is taken at a summit of EU leaders on 19/20 December.