Germany calls for quick EU asylum overhaul, continued border checks

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere called Thursday for a quick reform of the European Union's asylum rules as well as an extension of temporary border controls, at talks with his EU counterparts on how to better manage migration flows to the bloc.

More than 1 million migrants and asylum seekers arrived in Europe last year, with most of them seeking out Germany and other wealthy northern states.

Under EU rules, asylum claims should be registered in the member state where people first set foot, but the so-called Dublin system collapsed last year.

The European Commission, the bloc's executive, has since laid out reforms to better handle crisis situations, but many of its proposed measures - including a scheme to redistribute asylum seekers from overburdened member states - are controversial.

Germany would like a reformed Dublin system to take effect within 18 months, de Maiziere said ahead of Thursday's talks in Luxembourg. "That would be a very good speed for European legislation, and that is what we need," he added.

But others are less enthusiastic, with central European countries in particular opposing plans for a permanent mechanism to accept asylum seekers from other member states or else pay 250,000 euros (276,000 dollars) for each rejected refugee.

"Migrants are not figures. They have [their] own will," said Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Slovakia has instead proposed a concept of "flexible solidarity" in tackling migration, without providing detailed ideas.

"Those who introduced the phrase should now explain more clearly what they mean," de Maiziere said, noting that tasks can be divided but solidarity cannot be chosen at will.

Ministers also said they would raise the prospect of extending border controls introduced within the passport-free Schengen zone during the migration crisis, which are currently set to expire on November 12.

Germany, Austria and Denmark are among those calling for the measure to be renewed.

The commission has sought to reopen internal EU borders by the end of the year, while ramping up security on the bloc's external frontiers. But it would "not prejudge" any future decision to prolong border controls, EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said.

The ministers made progress, meanwhile, on efforts to repatriate so-called economic migrants who are not entitled to stay in Europe - a key element of the bloc's response to last year's surge in arrivals.

They gave the final go-ahead for a new EU-wide travel document that should facilitate and speed up the return of migrants to their home countries.

Less than 40 per cent of return decisions were enforced in 2014, according to the commission, due in part to a lack of ID documents acceptable to migrants' countries of origin.

"Our efforts to protect those in need must go hand in hand with the establishment of an effective and credible policy for the return of irregular migrants," Avramopoulos said.

Last update: Thu, 13/10/2016 - 23:06
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