EU interior ministers balance migrant rights and strong borders | News | DW

EU interior ministers met in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Friday to plan actions to strengthen and protect the European Union’s external borders, as well as rules for the return of migrants to their native country. The EU has seen an increase in irregular border crossings in the bloc and controversy around the practice of “push-backs”.

Ministers agreed that urgent action was needed. Steps discussed included strengthening the bloc’s external borders and prosecuting human traffickers.

Better to stop migrants to the EU at home or at the border?

“We have to protect our borders from aggression and we have to protect our people,” said EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson. She argued that the best start would be to first prevent migrants from embarking on dangerous journeys to Europe, but also stressed the need for a new European system to return people who enter the country illegally. block.

“We need to prevent people from going on smuggling routes and quickly return people to their countries of origin when they have no right to stay. We can do a lot more on returns if we establish a system back to Europe. But I need your support to do it,” Johansson said.

While emphasizing the need to respect a person’s right to asylum, Johansson argued for preventive action: “We can’t wait to have desperate migrants at our borders. We need to act sooner.

The meeting brought together ministers from EU member states, Austria, France, Greece, Italy and Poland, as well as from Norway and Switzerland, as well as heads of the agency of European Union border patrol, Frontex, and security organization, Europol.

What has been said about “clearly illegal” refoulements?

Johansson also addressed the issue of people being turned back across borders.

“Refoulements are clearly illegal. People have the right to seek asylum,” she said.

The practice has been widely criticized, but some countries have defended it, most recently in the face of thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Central Asia who have been lured to the EU’s external borders in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko in retaliation. EU sanctions against him.

In Lithuania alone, nearly 8,200 people were refused entry. Eastern EU members have requested funds from the bloc to finance the barriers they are building along their borders with Belarus. Poland, for example, is about to begin construction of a large permanent metal wall equipped with electronic surveillance systems along its border with Belarus.

Johansson balked at the idea, saying: “If member states wish to build fences they can do so, but it has been a long standing position of the Commission not to fund walls or barbed wire.”

Does Schengen make no sense?

Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite called on the EU to find common ground on migration. “If we want to defend ourselves effectively, we must all agree on a new standard for protecting the external borders.”

Greek Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi, whose country is struggling to cope with an influx of migrant arrivals by sea and land, said the current system was not working.

“If people have the right to arrive in any European member state without papers and without due process, then the whole Schengen code, the whole Schengen visa system, is meaningless,” Mitarachi said.

The Schengen Agreement abolished passport and visa checks at borders between many European countries.

Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri summed up the crux of the problem the bloc is currently facing with regards to ongoing illegal migration:

“Clarification (is needed) on how to strike the right balance between prohibiting illegal crossing and maintaining access to international protection for those in need,” he said. “Those are the key principles to combine.”

js/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)

Betty K. Park