A senior European lawmaker has warned that MEPs would seek to block any use of EU funds for offshore migrant camps in north Africa.
The opposition to offshore centres for processing asylum claims raises tensions ahead of an EU summit that will be dominated by a political crisis over migration that threatens Angela Merkel’s future as German chancellor.
As Mediterranean countries spar over who is responsible for people rescued at sea, the EU is reviving the idea of processing asylum claims in countries outside Europe.
Claude Moraes, a British Labour MEP, who chairs the European parliament’s influential justice and home affairs committee, said the parliament “wouldn’t cooperate on the budget” for such centres, because “we think these ideas are extreme and we are not going to touch them”.
The parliament must give its consent to the EU’s next seven-year budget, which foresees spending €35bn on border management from 2021-27, compared to €13bn in the current budget.
Moraes chairs the committee that co-legislates EU migration law and said that many of its MEPs shared his legal and ethical qualms about offshore processing.
However, the centre-right EPP bloc is understood to be more supportive of offshore centres, as long as they are not set up in Libya, where the UN human rights chief has reported “unimaginable horrors” in migrant detention camps.
“Offshoring has been tried before”
Even if the European parliament were able to block EU money for offshore migrant camps, member states could still fund them. But opposition from the European parliament would be a setback for credibility.
“Offshoring has been tried before,” Moraes told the Guardian. “[It] is not an asylum system in our view, because you wouldn’t guarantee human rights, you wouldn’t guarantee proper processing and you wouldn’t have any guarantee that someone who had any asylum claim would end up in the European Union.”
The MEP said the United Nations refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration were “just wrong” to be encouraging offshore centres – in a rare criticism of the two UN-linked agencies. The UNHCR wrote to the European commission last week, proposing discussion of “disembarkation centres”, while EU officials are seeking involvement of the IOM, which has concerns, but is yet to state its official position.
At an EU summit on Thursday, leaders are expected to give their blessing to “regional disembarkation platforms”, according to a draft communiqué, but many questions remain unanswered. It is not clear whether the camps would only be for people rescued at sea or for any migrants, or where they would be.
No country has agreed to host the centres, while Tunisia has flatly refused.
At an emergency meeting of EU leaders on Sunday, some –such as Belgium’s prime minister Charles Michel – asked for details on the scheme’s legality.
“I am against Guantanamo Bay for migrants”
The European commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, insists the EU will be guided by international law. “I am against Guantanamo Bay for migrants,” he told journalists. “This is not what we are discussing or what we have proposed.”
Brussels officials see the plan as an acceptable alternative to one recently floated proposal of expelling migrants from the EU to camps in neighbouring countries.
Austria, which takes over the EU rotating presidency on 1 July, is seeking an overhaul of European asylum laws, which would mean Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis would no longer be able to make an asylum claim on European soil.
The Austrian government, a centre-right and far-right coalition, wants “a new, better protection system under which no applications for asylum are filed on EU territory”, with limited exceptions, according to a leaked discussion paper.
The paper highlights “weaknesses in the fields of external border protection” and provides a window into official fears about migrants. It states that large numbers of lone, poorly educated young men are travelling to Europe, many of whom are “particularly susceptible to ideologies that are hostile to freedom and/or are prone to turning to crime”.