With warmer weather on the horizon, the European Union is weighing more ways to prevent migrants from reaching its shores but remains deeply divided over how to share responsibility for those entitled to stay.
EU interior ministers on Thursday discussed steps to strengthen the bloc’s external borders, while Germany and Austria pushed to prolong ID checks and better control the migrant movement inside Europe’s passport-free travel area.
Arrivals have dropped significantly since more than one million unauthorized migrants entered Europe in 2015, but spring is expected to see more arrivals, and the ministers are keenly aware of the impact migration played in Italy during weekend elections won by two Eurosceptic parties.
Yet despite this, the issue of whether Europe needs a quota system to distribute refugees in countries hit hardest by the migrant flows – primarily Italy and Greece – remains so sensitive that it was not even on the table.
The idea of migrant holding camps around the EU’s outside borders is gaining traction
Dutch Migration Minister Mark Harbers said refugee sharing – known as relocation – is “a big puzzle that we have to solve.”
He warned that without a functioning system to relieve front-line countries, “whenever there is a crisis like we had two or three years ago, we will see that all member states will take measures that are counterproductive.”
Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic vehemently oppose refugee quotas. They reject it as a system imposed on them against their will by EU bureaucrats and insist that migration is best handled by addressing its root causes.
EU leaders have demanded that the issue of burden sharing – which goes to the heart of Europe’s values – be resolved by early summer.
With quotas stalled, the idea of migrant holding camps around the EU’s outside borders is gaining traction. The idea is popular in France and Austria, which has an anti-migrant party in its governing coalition.
Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl has raised the possibility of holding asylum-seekers “in a concentrated way in one place,” to allow authorities to try to speed up application proceedings. It could also prevent migrants from moving on.
Meanwhile, the European Commission is looking at ways to ensure that migrants who do not qualify are quickly sent home. Only around half of those refused entry are returned.
The EU’s executive body is believed to be open to allowing member states to restrict the number of visas allocated to some African countries refusing to take back their nationals.