Migrants entering European Union waters by boat should be screened by "floating" registration units in the Mediterranean, Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said Wednesday, insisting that his "innovative" plan was viable.
Alfano first raised the idea in public three weeks ago. Since then, he said it has been shared with European Union counterparts and scrutinized by legal experts at the Italian foreign ministry, who gave mostly positive feedback.
"They gave a first assessment, it is an assessment that raises some problems but which is broadly favourable to the implementation of this new formula which will allow us to register everybody," Alfano said in a press conference at his ministry.
Under the Italian plan, migrant rescue boats would be fitted with fingerprinting machines and other apparatus to perform the same functions as "hotspots," the registration and detention centres recently opened in Italy and Greece with EU funding.
Alfano was elaborating on the proposal hours after the European Commission said Italy would likely need to open more hotspots to accommodate for an expected rise in migrant landings over the coming months.
Expressing willingness to respond to the demands from Brussels, the Italian minister said that what he described as "floating hotspots" would provide "a rapid and innovative solution."
Hotspots are supposed to separate migrants who can claim asylum, and are thus eligible to stay in Europe, from those who cannot and must be repatriated. Human rights associations say distinguishing between the two groups is difficult and may lead to abuse.
Roland Schilling, deputy leader of the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR's office in Rome, said the United States did screen Haitians at sea during a refugee crisis in the early 1990s, but was skeptical that something similar could be done in the Mediterranean.
"I'm just wondering how technically this could work, because a [screening] procedure can take several days, and you should also give people a chance to appeal as decisions can be wrong," Schilling told dpa on the margins of an Italian Navy conference in Rome last week.
"Can you do all of this on high seas? I think it would be problematic," Schilling added.