Germany has called for a “coalition of the willing” to take in migrants rescued while attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, called for a core of EU countries to agree a scheme without waiting for approval from the rest of the bloc.
“We need a coalition of the willing for a binding quota system,” he told a German regional newspaper group at the weekend.
“We must now go ahead with the member states that are ready to accept refugees. The others remain invited to participate.”
Germany was “always prepared to take its share of migrants”, he added.
Mr Maas’s comments come amid growing concern over the issue.
At least 682 migrants have drowned attempting to cross the Mediterranean so far this year, according to the International Organisation for Migration, and at least 53 were killed in an airstrike on a Libyan detention camp this month.
EU justice and interior ministers are due to hold talks on the issue this week, but they will meet against the backdrop of a diplomatic stand-off over Italy’s refusal to allow migrant rescue ships to enter its harbours.
Mr Maas’s proposals were attacked by Sebastian Kurz, the former Austrian chancellor, who accused him of giving false hope to migrants.
“We must not send out false signals and must absolutely prevent any more people risking their lives in the dangerous passage across the Mediterranean,” he said.
Italy countered with its own proposals to deal with the problem by deterring migrants from attempting the crossing.ADVERTISEMENT
Enzo Moavero Milanesi, the Italian foreign minister, called yesterday for specially chartered flights to bypass the Mediterranean altogether.
Under the Italian proposals, the EU would decide migrants’ asylum claims in north Africa and fly those granted refugee status to Europe.
“Those who have the right to asylum must be able to travel in dignified conditions, not in the hands of criminals,” Mr Milanesi told ‘Corriere della Sera’.
Operation Triton, the EU’s rescue mission, ended last year, leaving only ships manned by volunteer groups to rescue migrants from drowning.
But Italy has refused to allow their ships to land at its ports even if other EU states agree to take the migrants.
Matteo Salvini, the hardline Italian interior minister, has rejected a formal request from Germany to open its ports.
Mr Maas made the intervention as the UN called for the closure of all migrant detention centres in Libya.
Meanwhile, Latvia’s foreign minister has warned a hard Brexit could be more likely than thought because the EU’s leaders have failed to grasp the hardening of opinion in Britain.
Edgars Rinkēvičs, the Baltic state’s chief diplomat for eight years, said a mutual gulf of understanding between London and Brussels meant revising the Withdrawal Agreement before the October 31 deadline would be “extremely difficult”.
He warned that Boris Johnson’s plan to use hard Brexit as a “credible threat” was based on a false assumption about the EU’s position and the speed at which it can move.
Speaking during a visit to London, Mr Rinkēvičs said: “I think that in the EU we sometimes do not grasp that the UK, after three years of this very tortuous process, has a very hardened stance.
“But… it is also very important that the unity and solidarity of the European Union is not just words.”