European Union leaders are meeting in Brussels (28-29 June) to discuss the next steps in dealing with the migration issues, which have recently taken on a new urgency. After German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been threatened with a domestic political crisis and Italy refused to admit migrants stranded at sea, EU leaders are gathering in Europe’s capital to try to agree what to do about the migrants and refugees who are trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea.
The issue has become controversial once again, although the number of entrants since the beginning of this year is 77% lower than in the same period last year. The leaders are expected to agree on strengthening the EU’s coastal guard and on creating “disembarkation areas” in African countries along the Mediterranean coast, to which most migrants rescued at sea would be sent. Other issues that are expected to be discussed include measures to stop asylum seekers registered in one EU country to apply for asylum in another.
The idea of “disembarkation areas” took root at a preparatory gathering earlier this month but the details of the agreement still need to be flashed out since the migrant zones would be based in unstable North African countries. However, if finalized, such an agreement could soothe the potential crisis in Germany that will at the same time be seen as a victory for the anti-immigrant Italian government.
Angela Merkel’s coalition partners have set a deadline of Sunday (1 July) to reach a European solution to the migration crisis. The decision to prevent refugees registered in one EU country from applying for asylum in another could help Ms. Merkel too because this would speed up the return to Italy of migrants who first arrived there before moving to Germany. The EU is now hopeful that the “disembarkation areas” will become a reality by striking deals with neighboring countries, including Tunisia and Algeria.
“A new collaborative approach is needed to make disembarkation of people rescued at sea more predictable and manageable,” the UNHCR and IOM commented. “People rescued in international waters should be quickly brought ashore in safe locations in the EU, and potentially elsewhere too.” The agencies said nearly 1,000 people died this year alone while trying to reach Europe in unsafe rafts.