EU Mediterranean Ministers Call for Migrant Repatriations, More Resources

Migration and interior ministers from five European Union countries most affected by migration across the Mediterranean — Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain — hailed a new EU pact on migration but said more resources were needed. 

The ministers from the Med 5 group, who met in Thessaloniki, Greece, on Friday and Saturday, took a hard line on returning migrants who have crossed into the bloc illegally to their countries of origin, arguing that if Europe does not tackle the problem decisively, more extreme voices will take over. 

Greek Migration and Asylum Minister Dimitris Kairidis, who hosted the sixth meeting of the Med 5, and European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas congratulated the Spanish presidency of the EU for “doing what is humanly possible” to arrive at a compromise agreement. 

In a news conference Saturday, Schinas took issue with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who said Friday Hungary was “legally raped” by its fellow EU members. 

“Before he talks about rape, he should study the European Treaty,” he said, adding that decisions on migration are taken on an enhanced majority basis. Hungary and Poland were the two dissenters at an EU summit in Granada, arguing for a tougher approach. 

“Personally, I would have preferred unanimity,” said Schinas. “But you cannot reach an understanding with someone who doesn’t want to.” 

Kairidis added that Orban is a warning of what could happen if the EU does not come up with viable solutions. 

“We are caught between the hateful shouters on the right and the naive people on the left who believe that any effort to guard borders violates human rights,” he said. 

The Med 5 agreed on taking a hard line on migrant crossings but also emphasized cooperation with the countries of migration origin. 

“It is important to encourage repatriation,” said Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi. 

Malta’s Interior minister Byron Camillieri said that it is very important “to send a clear message (illegally entering migrants) have no right to stay and will return promptly to (their countries) countries of origin.” He added that 70% of migrants who landed in Malta had been returned. All the migrants had traveled from Libya but 70% came originally from Asian countries, he said. 

Cyprus’ Konstantinos Ioannou said that, recently, repatriations had exceeded arrivals in his country. 

Schinas emphasized cooperation with the migrants’ countries of origin, including financial incentives. He said the countries should be made to understand that “if you cooperate with Europe, you gain; if you don’t, you lose.” He called this the “more for more and less for less,” approach. 

Agreements are already in progress with Tunisia, Egypt and some western African countries, Schinas said, adding the EU should also revisit its 2016 deal with Turkey. 

Under that agreement, the EU offered Turkey up to 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in aid for the Syrian refugees it hosts, fast-tracked EU membership, and other incentives to stop Europe-bound migrants. 

“We must destroy the traffickers’ business model,” Schinas said. 

The Med 5 ministers called for an additional 2 billion euros to deal with migration. Most of the current EU budget was spent on accommodating Ukrainian refugees and tackling migrant flows through the EU’s external border with Belarus, they said. 

The ministers also expressed concern about the conflict between Israel and Gaza that erupted Saturday and concern that an expanded Middle East conflagration would affect migrant flows. Kairidis said already most of the recent migrants crossing into Greece are from Gaza. 

It was also noted that, besides the more than 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, another 2.5 million are in Lebanon. 

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