Ahead of Austria taking over the rotating presidency of the EU and only days before a major summit of the bloc’s heads of state, the European Commissioner for Internal Affairs, Dimitris Avramopoulos, strongly spoke out against the establishment of detention camps for illegal migrants in North Africa and Albania, which he said would fundamentally damage the European Union’s image around the world.
“I am against the creation of a Guantanamo for migrants. It goes against European values and we are not discussing the issue. It is absolutely out of the question,” said Avramopoulos, while warning that certain EU members are seriously considering the possibility of creating camps that could hold illegal migrants in squalid conditions for an indefinite amount of time.
“Our main goal is to save lives…to encourage voluntary returns to (their) countries of origin, and to the resettlement of refugees in Europe”. The resettlement issue has drawn sharp criticism from the Member States with either a right-wing or nationalist populist governments, particularly those in Hungary, Poland, Italy, Austria, and Slovenia.
Italy and Austria have recently proposed creating an “anti-migrant axis” with like-minded politicians in Germany, a move that has rocked the government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel after her junior coalition partners in the southern German state of Bavaria threated to act outside the authority of the federal government in Berlin by implementing their own migration policy that would be in line with the new firebrand anti-immigrant governments in Austria and Italy.
“Unilateral measures on immigration are not the answer,” Avramopoulos said, who added that such moves could seriously “damage all that the EU has built over the last 60 years”, including the Schengen Zone and the EU’s freedom of movement policy.
Avramopoulos’ comments came ahead of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s meeting with the EU heads-of-state, where the contentious issue of migration policy – as well as the future of the Eurozone, Brexit, a trade war with the Trump White House, and the EU’s long-term budget – is expected to dominate the talks.
The overall numbers of illegal migrants crossing into the EU have fallen to below pre-crisis levels, according to Avramopoulos. He said that in Italy, the number of new arrivals since the beginning of the year has actually dropped by 77% compared to the same period of 2017.
According to Avramopoulos’ own assessment, the EU Member States must agree on how to strengthen the bloc’s system for granting asylum, while increasing the number of deportations for those who do not meet the requirements to reside in Europe, as well as guarantee decisions on returning certain asylum seekers to their home countries are made.
The Member States need to “do more to tackle the root causes of migration”, Avramopoulos also said. The EU can bolster its ability to stem the tide of illegal human traffic to the bloc by funding the Trust Fund for Africa and providing a second €3 billion aid package for refugees who are currently in Turkey, What’s paramount, according to Avramopoulos, is that the EU must do more to protect the external borders by strengthening and enhancing the capabilities of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.
“We are at a historical junction. For the first time in sixty years, we are facing certain challenges. Populists are taking advantage of this situation to survive politically. But can you imagine a closed Europe with borders? No,” said Avramopoulos.