Less than a week after a deadly migrant shipwreck off Italy, five EU countries that border the Mediterranean criticised their northern neighbours for not accepting asylum-seekers under a voluntary scheme.
The ministers responsible for migration policy in Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain met in Malta’s capital, Valletta, on Saturday ahead of an EU ministerial meeting in Brussels next week on migration.
The countries started working together as the MED 5 in 2021 to confront the challenges of illegal migration.
Greek minister of migration and asylum Notis Mitarachi told reporters that just 1% of the migrants who arrived in those front-line countries along the EU’s southern border last year were taken in by other EU members under a voluntary relocation programme.
Spain’s interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said the current process is “too slow, too selective, with too few results and too little predictability”.
He pledged to come up with a more effective mechanism when Spain holds the EU’s rotating presidency in the second half of 2023.
The ministers meeting on Saturday also emphasised the need to work with the countries where many migrants are originally from and travel through. They also argued in favour of stepping up the pace of returning people who do not qualify for asylum.
“For the credibility of the asylum system, it is critical that we distinguish between those that are entitled to international protection according to the law, and those who are not,’’ Mr Mitarachi said.
“And those who are not should be returned with safety and dignity to the country of origin.”
According to the UN refugee agency, some 160,100 migrants arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean last year, 30% more than in 2021.
Thousands of people are believed to have died trying to cross the sea to Europe in recent years.
At least 70 migrants died after a wooden boat that set out from Turkey crashed on a shoal off the southern Italian coast, in Calabria, early last Sunday.