European Union (EU) governments agreed on Thursday to step up deportations of illegal immigrants and discussed creating an EU border force among measures to cope with hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria’s civil war.
Underlining the havoc brought by chaotic mass treks across Europe’s open borders over recent months, the German state of Bavaria threatened to break ranks with Berlin and send back to Austria migrants who cross its Alpine frontier.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose welcome for refugees has taken a toll on her ratings, insists she will not shut the door. Her deputy said there could be no pulling up of “drawbridges”. Austria’s interior minister warned of possible border “riots”.
The dispute between Vienna and one of Germany’s richest regions, which says over 200,000 migrants entered from Austria in a month, helps explain Merkel’s vocal support this week for the expulsion of those not fleeing for their lives and for tighter controls on who enters Europe across the Mediterranean.
A policy document approved by EU interior ministers meeting in Luxembourg called on states to ensure more of those ordered to leave should actually go. Some 470,000 expulsion orders were made last year but fewer than 40 per cent of them were enforced.
Ministers declined to put figures on future deportations.
“Increased return rates should act as a deterrent to irregular migration,” read the conclusions, which also included approval of detention for those who may abscond before expulsion and called for more “leverage” to be exercised on African and other poor states, including via aid budgets, to make them accept the return of citizens refused entry to Europe.
“Returns are always tough,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters. “But … we can only offer space and support to refugees in need of protection if those who don’t need protection don’t come or are quickly returned.”