Brussels seeks to promote the return of irregular migrants with

Brussels seeks to promote the return of irregular migrants with more cooperation with the countries of origin | International

With the migration debate —always hot and traditionally very divisive within the EU— on the table, the European Commission seeks to promote the return of irregular migrants to their countries of origin. “Those who have the right to international protection must be protected, those who do not have it must return to their country of origin: this is the only way to protect the system and, therefore, we must increase the number of repatriations”, stressed the Interior Commissioner, Ylva Johansson, in Brussels, where she has presented what she has called an “operational strategy” to increase these returns, an objective that the Union has been pursuing for years with not many results. The strategy includes four pillars: better coordination between the Commission and the Member States, streamlining procedures, assistance to countries of origin and digitization of procedures. “We need to have a single European system for returns. This is not the case at the moment,” stressed Mari Juritsch, EU repatriation coordinator.

In 2022, the European border agency, Frontex, detected some 360,000 irregular arrivals; 100,000 more than the previous year. The Interior Commissioner has assured that the majority of these arrivals correspond to people who do not need international protection, although many submitted asylum applications. “That puts reception systems and capabilities under great pressure,” stressed Johasson, who will present the strategy to the interior ministers of the member states at a meeting this week in Stockholm. The meeting will be prior to the extraordinary summit on February 9 in Brussels, where the heads of State and Government of the Twenty-seven will discuss immigration. Every year, around 300,000 return decisions are made in the EU Member States, the Interior Commissioner pointed out, but only around 70,000 are made effective. “And that is now what needs to be increased,” the commissioner specified.

Brussels is self-critical and acknowledges that, with the figures in hand, things are not being done well. Of the more than 340,000 return orders issued in 2021 in the EU, only 21% were complied with. In addition, there are some countries in which current European strategies are applied more rigorously than in others: five Member States are responsible for 80% of returns, according to Frontex. “Repatriations are complicated and are not yet perceived as a shared responsibility,” Juritsch said.

The strategy seeks, for example, for return orders to be immediately followed by readmission requests to the countries of origin and to increase and expedite cooperation with countries with which there is already a network and cooperation programs, according to Johansson. Last year, 924,000 asylum applications were submitted in the EU, almost double the previous year; the majority were presented in Germany, France, Spain and Austria, according to Commission data. Added to that, Johansson has said, is Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has forced some four million Ukrainians to leave their country. All this has increased the pressure on the response systems, he acknowledged.

The new measures come on top of the appointment of a new head for Frontex, Hans Leijtens, after the previous one, Fabrice Leggeri, resigned in April 2022 after an investigation by the European anti-fraud agency (OLAF) revealed that the agency’s guards they covered up illegal returns of immigrants at the borders, between 2020 and 2021, which is a violation of human rights.

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