EU countries may be paid to host migrants in secure centres
European Union countries could be offered €6,000 (£5,346) per person to host migrants in secure centres on their territory, as the EU searches for a political answer to managing tens of thousands of people crossing the Mediterranean.
The “controlled centres” would aim for “orderly and effective processing” of the asylum claims of people rescued from the Mediterranean Sea, according to a European commission paper published on Tuesday.
Brussels hopes the payments will ease the pressure on Italy, where the far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has refused to allow boats carrying migrants to dock at Italian ports. Softening this line on Monday, the Italian government said it would allow boats to dock for five weeks while the EU works out a new asylum policy.
EU leaders agreed to create secure centres for processing asylum claims of Mediterranean migrants at an all-night summit last month. But the plans were immediately thrown into doubt when Austria, France, Germany and Italy indicated they had no intention of creating such centres.
Despite uncertainty, on Tuesday the EU’s executive arm attempted to flesh out the details while pledging “full operational support” – teams of EU border guards, asylum officers, translators and officials to return failed asylum seekers to their country of origin.
For a boatload of 500 people, the commission estimates providing 150 staff from the European Border and Coastguard Agency plus 145 from the European Asylum Support Office, two agencies set to grow in power as part of the EU response to migration. The EU police agency, Europol, would provide up to 20 officers per boat to carry out security checks. Member states would be expected to provide doctors, nurses and other medical staff.
All costs would be covered by the EU budget, including the €6,000 payment per person. The proposals are the latest attempt by the commission to spread the cost of migration, which falls heavily on Mediterranean states and countries that have taken in large numbers of refugees.
The commission also restated the EU’s intention to set up migrant processing centres in non-EU countries to assess asylum claims of people rescued at sea. That plan is also in question, after Tunisia and then Libya flatly refused to get involved.
The EU said it was ready to provide “financial and logistical support” to host countries without spelling out details.
Anxious to avoid making it easier for migrants to reach Europe, the commission proposes setting up the centres “as far away as possible” from disembarkation points to avoid “a pull factor”.
The EU hopes to set up the centres with the UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration. Both agencies insist the centres cannot be closed detention camps if they are involved.
The numbers of people making life-threatening journeys across the Mediterranean has sharply fallen since record numbers arrived in Europe in 2015-16. So far this year, 17,838 people have crossed the central Mediterranean Sea to Italy, compared with 119,369 who arrived in 2017 and 181,436 the year before, according to the IOM.
But migration remains a big electoral issue: it has been blamed for bringing Italy’s far-right League party into a coalition government, while the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, had to hold crisis talks to preserve her coalition with Bavaria’s centre-right party.
The latest ideas will be discussed by EU ambassadors on Wednesday, but it remains unclear whether member states will back the commission’s vision.