European Parliament.jpg
Photograph: EPA/PATRICK SEEGER

The European Parliament approved Thursday the introduction of a new EU travel document aimed at easing the return of illegal immigrants to their countries of origin, as part of efforts to tackle migration flows into the bloc.

Migration to the European Union peaked last year, with the arrival of more than 1 million people. Many were fleeing conflict in countries such as Syria, but the bloc is also an appealing destination to those escaping economic hardship.

In an effort to tackle migration, the EU has pledged among other things to crack down on people who have no right to asylum. Many Europeans are concerned that migrants place a burden on welfare services and the job market.

Repatriating illegal migrants has proven difficult, with less than 40 per cent of return decisions being enforced in 2014, according to the European Commission. One problem is often a lack of ID documents acceptable to migrants' countries of origin.

The EU's executive thus proposed the introduction of a standard European travel document that could be issued to people being sent back to their countries of origin.

The move was approved on Thursday by a large majority of EU lawmakers during their plenary session in the French city of Strasbourg.

"The low enforcement rate of return decisions seriously undermines the credibility and legitimacy of the European asylum and immigration policies in the eyes of our citizens," said EU lawmaker Jussi Halla-aho, the parliament's lead negotiator on the proposal.

The harmonized travel document is a "step in the right direction," he added.

It now needs to be approved by EU member states, a move that is expected to be a formality.

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