The EU has to manage migration together with its Western Balkan partners, notably in returning illegal migrants who should go back to their countries of origin and in fighting against human traffickers, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson has said.
Human traffickers are extremely well-organised in the Western Balkans and they should be fought together. Without close cooperation with those countries, we won’t be successful in the fight against traffickers, she told the press in Brussels ahead of an annual meeting between the EU and Western Balkan justice and interior ministers on Thursday.
Johansson said the meeting would discuss migration and the fight against human traffickers, terrorism and organised crime.
There are many illegal migrants in the Western Balkans who are not refugees and who must go back to their countries of origin, she said.
Both the EU and the Western Balkans should have a registration system for asylum seekers and adequate accommodation capacities for migrants as well as strengthen the asylum system, she said.
Johansson said many migrants in the Western Balkans had not applied for asylum and that this made it impossible to know how many were entitled to international protection.
Therefore, she added, it is necessary to speed up the strengthening of capacities for the processing of asylum applications.
She hopes that agreements on deploying Frontex members will be concluded soon with all Western Balkan countries. Frontex is already deployed in Albania and should be soon in Montenegro.
Asked if the Commission had a way of looking into NGOs’ claims about the inhumane treatment of migrants and their pushback at the hands of the Croatian police, Johansson said she was concerned about such reports.
It is not just Croatia. We have reports on pushbacks in several countries on the external border, she added.
The proposal for a new pact on migration and asylum, which the Eurepean Commission presented a month ago, envisages new laws so that all member states would have independent monitoring mechanisms on borders to make sure that fundamental rights are respected and to enable people to apply for asylum, she said.
That is a very important proposal whereby all member states would have to investigate allegations of pushbacks, she added.
She expressed optimism that a compromise could be reached between member states on the proposed package and that it could get support from the European Parliament.
The Commission’s earlier proposal from 2016 was blocked for years as it envisaged binding quotas for migrant distribution. The new draft pact on migration, presented on September 23, focuses on swift returns of illegal migrants, increased controls on the EU’s external borders and faster asylum procedures.
As for solidarity mechanisms, under the new pact EU member states not wishing to take in asylum seekers will be able to contribute in another way, by taking on the responsibility for returning persons not granted asylum to their countries of origin.
Interior ministers of member states have already held their first discussion on that proposal.
The discussion was very constructive. I think the proposal is balanced and that member states and the European Parliament can accept it, the commissioner said.
She stressed that there was no migrant crisis now.
The reality is that there are many migrants arriving legally, three million people got a residence permit last year, and over three million left the EU. We need migrants because we are ageing societies, Johansson said.
We need to deal with the issue of illegal arrivals. Last year there were 140,000 illegal arrivals, which is little compared to the previous period, but we are not managing this well. My goal is to have fewer illegal and more legal migrants, the commissioner added.
Another priority is to send back those who are not entitled to international protection. Of the 140,000 who arrived illegally last year, two-thirds were not refugees and when they apply for asylum, they get a negative response and a return decision, but the EU does not have good results here either, Johansson said.