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Five Med states unhappy with asylum burden

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Less than a week after a deadly migrant shipwreck off Italy, five European Union states on the Mediterranean have criticised fellow members for not accepting asylum-seekers under a voluntary relocation initiative.

The ministers responsible for migration policy in Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, and Spain met in Malta’s capital, Valletta, before the EU ministerial meeting on migration in Brussels.

The countries started working together as the MED 5 in 2021 to confront the challenges of illegal migration.

Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi told reporters that just 1% of the migrants who arrived in those front-line nations along the EU’s southern border last year were taken in by other EU members under a voluntary relocation program.

“We cannot continue to talk about the need to impose more responsibility on front-line member states if there is not an equally prescriptive and mandatory solidarity mechanism toward the countries of first reception,” Mitarachi said.

Spain’s interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska Gomez, said the current process is “too slow, too selective, with too few results and too little predictability.”

He pledged to develop a more effective mechanism when Spain holds the EU’s rotating presidency in the second half of 2023.

The ministers also emphasised the need to work with the countries where many migrants are originally from and travel through.

Such measures could include giving financial aid to countries of origin or transit to stem the flows to Europe, Malta’s home affairs minister, Byron Camillieri, said.

The officials further called for the EU border agency Frontex to deploy more resources and for stepping up the pace of returning people who do not qualify for asylum.

“For the credibility of the asylum system, it is critical that we distinguish between those that are entitled to international protection according to the law and those who are not,” Mitarachi said.

“And those who are not should be returned with safety and dignity to the country of origin.”

According to the UN refugee agency, 160,100 migrants arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean Sea last year, 30% more than in 2021.

In recent years, thousands of people are believed to have died trying to cross the sea to Europe.

At least 70 migrants died after a wooden boat that set out from Turkey crashed on a shoal off the southern Italian coast, in Calabria, on 26 February. (agencies)