EU DIPLOMATS today admitted that hardly any of the people arriving in Europe on boats are genuine refugees as they vowed to quicken up the rate of deportations for failed asylum seekers.
Officials in Brussels said the newest wave of migration from North Africa was “clearly and manifestly about economic migrants” and said those people had no right to “enter European soil”.
European leaders are expected to back significantly toughening up the policing of the continent’s outer borders when they meet for an EU Council summit in the Belgian capital tomorrow.
In a letter to EU heads of state its president Donald Tusk said that “illegal arrivals” to Italy had rocketed by 26 per cent over the last year and urged them to approve more cash to train and equip the Libyan coastguard.
That would mean migrants saved at sea would be taken back to North Africa rather than being shipped to Europe, which currently happens if they are rescued by a vessel operating under an EU flag.
Currently people smugglers pack people into unseaworthy vessels, knowing that they only need to get them out beyond Libyan national waters and into the central Med where they will hopefully be picked up by EU search vessels.
Eurocrats ultimately want Libya to take over running search and rescue operations
At tomorrow’s summit they intend to approve an expanded list of agreed “safe” third countries, smoothing the legal process by which all member states can deport irregular migrants.
During a press briefing this morning a top diplomat was quizzed over why Mr Tusk had referred to people as “illegal” immigrants in his letter rather than asylum seekers or refugees.
The official replied: “In most of the cases, and that is actually the case on the central Mediterranean route, we’re talking clearly and manifestly about economic migrants.
“They get to Europe illegally, they do not have any documents which would allow them to enter the European soil.”
Up until now, senior EU officials have preferred to refer to people arriving in Italy and Greece as “irregular” migrants, denoting the fact they did not enter Europe through official channels . A shift in language to “illegal” suggests a significant hardening of that stance, criminalizing this form of migration and paving the way for more deportations.
And to that end the official added: “What Tusk stressed is the importance of looking at the rate of returns. This is somewhere where the progress still hasn’t been sufficient.
“If there’s no effective return policy then we don’t have effective instruments to counteract pull factors.”
The official said the EU had made “significant progress” on strengthening its outer borders even if there are fierce disagreements internally about its controversial migrant quota scheme.
He added that Libya should be the bloc’s “biggest ally in the central Mediterranean” and stressed the need to work more closely with the war-torn country, even though it has two rival Governments in place.
The official said: “They could be our most important ally on the central Mediterranean route and we should make everything we can so that they work robustly against the smugglers and clearly on our side.
“We would be in a different place if the Libyan coastguard were more efficient, and if more of the burden to save people’s lives on the Mediterranean was on the Libyan coastguard rather than on the vessels with European flags.”