EU to step up deportation of economic migrants

Refugees and migrants sleep on the street after arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos.
Refugees and migrants sleep on the street after arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos.AFP

BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - European Union states will step up efforts to repatriate thousands of migrants fleeing poverty rather than war by speeding up deportations and exerting pressure on their home countries to take them back, an EU document says.

Faced with the biggest inflow of migrants in decades, EU countries have been discussing for months how to reduce numbers arriving from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, often via dangerous crossings of the Mediterranean Sea.

States are committed to sheltering refugees escaping conflict and violence from countries like Syria and Eritrea , but they want to tackle the flow of migrants who are escaping poverty from countries not at war.

In a new attempt to clamp down on economic migrants, ministers responsible for migration policies will meet on Thursday in Luxembourg to agree measures to discourage illegal migration.

"The EU and its member states must do more in terms of return. Increased return rates should act as a deterrent to irregular migration," say the draft conclusions of the meeting.

To date, EU countries deport less than 40 per cent of the migrants staying illegally in their territories, EU Commission data shows. Hundreds of thousands whose asylum applications are rejected remain in Europe every year or do not return home when their regular visas expire.

The draft, seen by Reuters, recommends "detention as a legitimate measure of last resort" and urges states to reinforce their detention capacity to ensure illegal migrants do not disappear before being deported.

CARROT AND STICK

To ensure the cooperation of migrants' home countries, ministers want to offer more aid to African or Asian states who take citizens back while threatening retaliation against those that don't, possibly via a visa crackdown.

"A fine balance of incentives and pressure should be used," the draft conclusions say.

"Translated, this means ministers will call to apply a principle of 'more for more and less for less'," a European diplomat said.

The document reflects EU leaders' recommendations issued in June but includes more detailed measures.

An EU "laissez-passer" is suggested to aid procedures in home or transit countries and should become "the standard travel document for the expulsion of third-country nationals".

Ministers also want to enhance the role of EU border control agency Frontex in deporting migrants.

Last year, Frontex organised only 3,000 deportations. That figure could rise substantially with new powers to help national authorities arrange flights and secure travel documents from deportees' home countries, Frontex head Fabrice Leggeri told Reuters in an interview in September.