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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

EU hits instant problems over African migrant centre plan

Leaders agree vague deal to explore setting up processing offices outside of EU borders

Migrants sleep at a makeshift emergency centre at Barbate's municipal sports centre, in the south of Spain. Emilio Morenatti/ AP Photo

The UN migration agency on Friday cast immediate doubt on EU proposals to establish centres beyond their borders to process the claims of people fleeing war and poverty.

The deal appeared to have reduced the immediate heat over the migration ‘crisis’ in some EU states – particularly Germany - but was short on specific details about how any new system would work.

The 26-paragraph statement released on Friday included vague pledges to “explore the concept of regional disembarkation platforms”. The EU wants countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Niger and Tunisia to process the claims of migrants seeking to travel to Europe with the aim of stopping many from making the final crossings.

On a visit to Tripoli this week, the Italian anti-migration interior minister, Matteo Salvini, called for a processing centre on the country’s southern border to prevent migrants being “funnelled” through Libya north to Italy.

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The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) cast doubt on the prospect of such centres in Libya on Friday, saying there were “insurmountable” security concerns.

“Nothing can move forward outside the EU without the full agreement and engagement of non-EU states in the Mediterranean,” said an IOM spokesperson.

The EU statement said the system would work in close cooperation with “relevant third countries” but would likely require large payments to secure their agreement.

“It’s simply about pushing migrants out of our sight so we don’t have to look at the camps in Greece, or in Italy or on our borders in Calais,” Asad Rehman, executive director of anti-poverty charity War on Want, told Sky News.

The EU statement gave no detail on what form the centres would take, where they would go, or potentially how much they would cost. It also failed to answer what would happen to those whose claims are rejected.

For those migrants that arrived in the EU, countries would set up “controlled centres” on a voluntary basis and those whose claims were rejected would be returned, according to the statement.

“I am not optimistic that they will be better at handling asylum claims” than current national systems, said Georgina Wright, an EU policy expert at London-based think tank Chatham House.

Despite the lack of detail, she said it may have the effect of soothing widespread public discontent across Europe over migration, which has propelled right-wing anti-migration groups into positions of power across the continent.

The EU has in the past been highly critical of the so-called ‘Australian model’, where refugees are detained and their claims processed offshore in the Pacific Islands. The system allows Australia to return asylum seekers without them ever reaching Australian ports.

European leaders have agreed to increase funds for Spain and Morocco as more people choose the route between the two countries to cross to Europe, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Friday.

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