By LUCIA KUBOSOVA
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – Brussels is finalising fresh proposals on European Union immigration policy, including a potentially controversial system of re-distributing refugees and asylum seekers among the 27 member states to lighten the workload of the bloc’s border countries.
Both the re-location policy, which could see the transfer of people who land on the shores of Mediterranean countries to other EU states, and asylum policy reform, which could set quotas on the number of refugees for member states, are to be presented in September, Swedish immigration minister Tobias Billstroem has said, according to Agence France Presse.
Sweden, currently chairing the EU, is planning to organise a first discussion on immigration reform among foreign ministers by the end of October.
“This would only be a first step, as such a big problem cannot be solved in a single meeting,” Sweden’s foreign minister, Carl Bildt, said on Sunday (23 August) on the sidelines of a conference at the Italian seaside town of Rimini, according to Reuters.
Italy is one of the Mediterranean countries pressing hard for more help from other member states over immigration flows, along with fellow southern states Malta, Greece and Spain.
Franco Frattini, Italian foreign minister and the ex-EU commissioner responsible for immigration, complained at the Rimini event: “The EU has made many statements …but has not yet said just what should happen when a group of migrants reaches the borders of Europe.”
“All we Europeans, all 27 countries, must bear responsibility for these people,” Mr Frattini said.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 67,000 people crossed the Mediterranean last year to try to irregularly enter Europe, and some of them have died at sea.
The most recent tragedy happened late last week. Italian authorities on Thursday (20 August) found a boat carrying five Eritrean migrants who said 73 others had died during the crossing.
Last October, EU leaders formally backed the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum, a set of political commitments in five areas – regular and irregular immigration, border controls, asylum policies and co-operation with countries of origin and of transit.
The European Commission is by 2012 expected to table its proposal on “a single asylum procedure comprising common guarantees …and a uniform status for refugees and the beneficiaries of subsidiary protection,” the pact states.