Failed asylum seekers at risk of absconding can be detained for up to 18 months while awaiting deportation, the European Commission has announced.
The measure is part of a package of “concrete and immediate actions Member States can take” to crack down on illegal immigration, in a bid to deal with the migrant crisis afflicting the region.
It comes as Hungary was heavily criticised after unveiling plans to detain all migrants crossing its border until their asylum claims are assessed.
By contrast, the Commission said it did not intend for blanket detention, but made clear to member states that current European law does allow for the detention of illegal migrants for six months, and in some cases as long as 18 months.
Commenting on the package of measures, Dimitris Avramopoulos, the Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship said: “We need to give protection to those in need, but we must also return those who have no right to stay in the EU, in full compliance with the fundamental rights and the principle of non-refoulement.
“Ensuring that irregular migrants are returned swiftly will not only take pressure off the asylum systems in Member States and ensure appropriate capacity to protect those who are genuinely in need of protection, it will also be a strong signal against taking dangerous irregular journeys to the EU in the first place.”
Other measures within the package include the setting up of voluntary return programmes by this summer, and tackling abuses of the system by making better use of border procedures in cases where it is suspected that asylum applications are only being made to delay enforced returns.
According to Commission figures, 533,395 migrants were ordered to leave the EU in 2015, although that figure could top 1 million once all asylum claims have been assessed. However, it is not clear how many of those have now left Europe.
German figures show that 8,363 North African migrants were refused asylum in that country in 2016, but that just 368 were deported by the authorities. Meanwhile, hundreds of failed asylum seekers have been arriving in Paris, filling shelters intended for genuine asylum seekers.
Encouraging “solidarity” between member states on the issue of migrants, the Commission has elsewhere called for a harmonisation of reintegration packages for migrants across member states to stop the newcomers from “assisted voluntary return shopping”, and to prevent countries of return favouring those deported from states with favourable terms.
The Commission’s first Vice-President, Frans Timmermans, said the EU wanted “to continue to offer succour to persons in need of international protection”, but made it clear that to do so, “all persons who do not need international protection [must be] returned humanely and swiftly”.
In a statement, the Commission said: “The measures proposed by the Commission consist of practical steps which can have an immediate impact. They focus on closing loopholes and applying the existing rules with the rigour and realism required to ensure they deliver in practice in line with fundamental rights requirements.”