European governments are aiming to deny the right of asylum to innumerable refugees by funding and building camps for them in Africa and elsewhere outside the European Union.
Under plans endorsed in Brussels on Monday evening, EU interior ministers agreed that once the proposed system of refugee camps outside the union was up and running, asylum claims from people in the camps would be inadmissible in Europe.
The emergency meeting of interior ministers was called to grapple with Europe’s worst modern refugee crisis. It broke up in acrimony amid failure to agree on a new system of binding quotas for refugees being shared across the EU and other decisions being deferred until next month.
The lacklustre response to a refugee emergency that is turning into a full-blown European crisis focussed on “Fortress Europe” policies aimed at excluding refugees and shifting the burden of responsibility on to third countries, either of transit or of origin.
The ministers called for the establishment of refugee camps in Italy and Greece and for the detention of “irregular migrants” denied asylum and facing deportation but for whom “voluntary return” was not currently “practicable”.
The most bruising battle was over whether Europe should adopt a new system of mandatory quotas for sharing refugees. The scheme, proposed by the European commission last week, is strongly supported by Germany which sought to impose the idea on the rejectionists mainly in eastern Europe.
Hungary’s hardline anti-immigration government said it would have no part of the scheme, from which it would benefit, while Thomas de Maizière, the German interior minister, complained that the agenda for the meeting was inadequate.
The ministers agreed “in principle” to share 160,000 refugees across at least 22 countries, taking them from Greece, Hungary, and Italy, but delayed a formal decision until next month, made plain the scheme should be voluntary rather than binding and demanded ‘flexibility’. De Maizière, by contrast, called for precise definitions of how refugees would be shared.
Luxembourg, chairing the meeting, signalled that there was a sufficient majority to impose the quotas, but that the meeting had balked at forcing a vote.
The ministers went further than previous proposals about outsourcing asylum-processing to countries mainly in Africa where “reception centres” or refugee camps would be built. In what will be seen by humanitarian and refugee professionals as draconian, the statement said: “Implementation shall start on a medium-term strategy aimed at developing safe and sustainable reception capacities in the affected regions and providing lasting prospects and adequate procedures for refugees and their families until return to their country of origin is possible.”
Once the system was functioning, EU members would be “in a position to find asylum applications of these persons inadmissible on safe third country grounds”.
The proposal was supported by the home secretary, Theresa May. She said: “We also need to be setting up removal centres in transit countries in Africa. By doing these things we can be sure we offer protection to those who need it and return the economic migrants who do not.”
Claude Moraes, the Labour MEP who chairs the European parliament’s civil liberties committee, said the proposal was invidious.
“The principle of asylum must be preserved at the heart of one of the key proposals. The idea of safe countries could potentially corrupt this right,” said Moraes who worked for many years as an immigration lawyer.
The European commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, admitted that the proposed policy was flawed since target countries in Africa were “not willing” to host EU-sponsored refugee camps on their soil.