UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY) — Four European Union (EU) member states on Tuesday will push more reluctant bloc states to share rescued asylum seekers, a day after a boat carrying migrants sank in the Mediterranean.
At a meeting of EU interior ministers in Luxembourg, Germany, France, Italy and Malta are seeking support from other countries for a September 23 agreement in Malta as a six-month interim plan pending a reform of the EU’s asylum policy.
The meeting followed the sinking of a boat carrying about 50 migrants on Monday off the Italian island of Lampedusa, which led to the sinking of at least 13 women, some of them pregnant.
The agreement, known as the “Malta Declaration”, aims to avoid such tragedies in the future and find a solution for NGO rescue ships full of migrants, who are often denied entry to EU ports for weeks.
“Listen to me, we cannot continue like this in the Mediterranean,” EU Immigration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said on arrival at the meeting.
“We can’t just come up with temporary solutions. We need a permanent mechanism.”
– Dangerous trips –
The initial agreement aims to ease the burden on countries where migrants first arrive, Italy and Malta, which are now required to host migrants arriving by sea while their asylum claims are being considered.
Under the agreement, France and Germany volunteered to host some asylum seekers.
The deal also aims to find a way to stop human smugglers piled up in dilapidated boats by large numbers of North African migrants to Europe hoping to be rescued or landed, in a dangerous attempt that sometimes leads to death.
A boat sank off Lampedusa added to the tragedies of migrants.
Since 2016, at least 19,000 migrants have drowned or gone missing while trying to cross the Mediterranean, according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM).
However, some EU countries fear that Malta’s declaration could be a “draw” for more migrants.
Other countries consider receiving asylum-seekers relative to their population.
Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Hungary and the Netherlands are reluctant to join the interim agreement, diplomats said.
Other countries, including Finland, Ireland and Luxembourg, have said they are considering joining the pact but will only decide if a large number of countries have joined and as long as quotas are not allocated for the number of migrants they must receive.
Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grand-Marlaska said his country wanted to expand the Malta agreement to include all transit operations in the Mediterranean, such as short trips from Morocco to Spain, another major migrant corridor.
– there is hope –
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer admitted to the meeting that there were concerns, pointing to the fragility of the Malta agreement.
“If this solution ends up being misused so that hundreds of migrants turn into thousands, I can say tomorrow that the temporary mechanism is over,” he said.
“It was clear from the outset that no decisions will be taken today,” he said. “It will be limited to exchanging views and testing the pulse to see how much support the agreement has.”
French Minister for European Affairs Emily Monshallan told AFP during the meeting that there was hope that other EU countries would provide support on a humanitarian basis.
“We cannot resolve this issue as only four countries,” she said. “The other countries in the EU cannot be indifferent. This is an issue that concerns us all.”
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