EU presses African nations to accept migrants back

World Today

Slovenian soldiers erect a razor-wired fence on the Croatian border in Gibina, Slovenia, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015. Slovenia has started erecting a barbed-wire fence on the border with Croatia to prevent uncontrolled entry of migrants into the already overwhelmed alpine state. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

The European Union has come up with a plan to help reduce the number of migrants: expel some who don’t qualify for asylum and give them EU papers to fly to Africa, calling on African countries to let them travel onwards to their home.

A top African Union official called the idea “unheard-of” and migration experts said it represents a sign of desperation. At the very least, it will make for heated discussions at a migration summit that began Wednesday in Malta.

The talks on the Mediterranean island are being held not far from where rescue ships have plucked thousands of people from the seas this year. According to the International Organization for Migration, almost 800,000 people have entered Europe by sea this year. The EU predicts that three million more could arrive by 2017.

In another sign of desperation, Slovenia began erecting a razor-wire fence along its border with Croatia to stop asylum-seekers from overwhelming the area.

Many people arrive in Europe without identity papers. Some claim to be Syrians or Iraqis, to increase their chances of being granted asylum.

European nations, meanwhile, are pressing African leaders to take back thousands of people refused asylum. The special “laissez passer” travel documents for Africans without ID are aimed at easing their return back to countries they left or traveled through.

In essence, the pass means the EU would decide where a person without a passport has come from in Africa — tantamount to the EU designating the nationality of someone on behalf of his home country.

“It is another form of taking short cuts on procedures,” said Iverna McGowan, acting director of Amnesty International’s EU office. “People returned to countries of transit risk being faced with arbitrary detention and having their rights to asylum and to work violated.”

The measure is one of a number that the Europeans want their African counterparts to accept — particularly the nations around lawless Libya, from where most people set off on perilous sea voyages to Europe — to speed the return home of migrants.

The two-day summit in Valletta will also discuss longer-term measures to fight poverty, climate change and conflict, the main causes of people leaving Africa in the first place.

In Slovenia, army trucks carrying fencing and bulldozers arrived in Veliki Obrez on Wednesday and soldiers began unwinding the spirals of wire and stretching them along the Slovenian side of the Sutla River that divides the country from Croatia. Other units were later seen with fencing further southwest, near the town of Gibina.

Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said his country expects about 30,000 new migrants to reach its borders. His government fears that if neighboring Austria restricts their entry, the thousands stranded in Slovenia would be too much for the tiny Alpine state to handle.

“If we don’t act on time,” Cerar said, “this could cause a humanitarian catastrophe on the territory of Slovenia.”

He said the “technical barrier” will be used to direct the refugee flow, not to close the 670-kilometer (400-mile) border, as was the case in Hungary when it put up border fences.

Nearly 170,000 migrants have crossed into Slovenia since mid-October, when Hungary closed its border with Croatia with a razor-wire fence and the flow of desperate people heading to Western Europe was redirected to Slovenia.

In other developments, 14 migrants, including seven children, drowned early Wednesday when their boat sank off the coast of Turkey, the state-run news agency reported. Divers are searching for more possible victims.

Story by the Associated Press