VALLETTA: The EU on Thursday urged member states meeting in Malta to break a long deadlock on sharing the burden of asylum seekers as a new migrant crisis brewed in the central Mediterranean.
EU interior ministers were in Valletta debating ways to reform the so-called Dublin rules that have put the onus on overstretched Greece and Italy to admit asylum seekers landing in Europe in record numbers.
“I hope that today finally we shall find the common ground on solidarity,” EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters before entering the talks. “I think one and a half years is enough.”
Under the Dublin rules, would-be refugees must file for asylum in the first member state they enter, most often the Mediterranean nations of Greece and Italy.
If asylum seekers have traveled on to other EU nations, they are to be returned to their first port of call.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said France and Germany have both presented proposals to break the deadlock but did not elaborate.
“I think it is now the time to achieve a compromise in the coming months,” de Maiziere said before entering the talks in Malta, which currently holds the six-month EU rotating presidency.
Eastern European countries like Hungary, Slovakia and Poland have been among the most reluctant in the 28-nation bloc to admit asylum seekers, suggesting they could help financially instead.
The ministers were meeting after Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat warned the EU could face an “unprecedented” flow of migrants in the spring across the central Mediterranean from Libya to Italy.
Smuggling on that route is picking up sharply with more than 180,000 migrants landing in Italy last year, compared with a previous annual record of 170,100 in 2014.
Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak told reporters in Valletta: “I think all our focus in this year has to be put on the (central) Mediterranean route.”
An EU aid-for-cooperation deal struck with Turkey last March has dramatically reduced the numbers of asylum seekers arriving in Greece, the previous main entry point for Europe.
EU officials say the vast majority of people travelling over the central Mediterranean are migrants in search of work rather than fleeing war and persecution.
Those who fled to Greece were mainly refugees from Syria and other conflict-torn countries. AFP