Frontex to take charge of repatriation
The EU border agency Frontex will assume responsibility for the repatriation of illegal immigrants to their country of origin as was suggested by Malta and Italy earlier this year.
Speaking at the European Parliament yesterday, EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot said the EU Executive had decided to strengthen the role of Frontex in fighting illegal immigration and the return of illegal migrants would be one of its missions.
"We want to make best use of and strengthen the role of Frontex in border cooperation. The Commission will present a draft amendment to the agency's mandate so that Frontex can start organising the repatriation of illegal migrants", he said.
Mr Barrot said the changes would happen in the beginning of 2010 so the agency could start working on returning illegal immigrants from member states to their countries of origin as soon as possible.
The suggestion was first put to the Commission by Italy and Malta during a meeting in Brussels in the aftermath of the Pinar E incident, a Turkish cargo ship that was stranded on the high seas in June when both Malta and Italy refused to take the 142 immigrants it had rescued.
The proposal was that Frontex would not only be responsible for repatriation activities but would also manage reception centres in North African countries together with the UNHCR so immigrants wanting to start a new life in Europe would be able to apply for asylum there without the need of making a dangerous sea crossing in the Mediterranean.
Until now, Frontex has been of little help to Malta's illegal migration problem because its mandate restricts it to act only as a coordinator of anti-illegal migration patrols.
The agency is funding and coordinating the Nautilus IV operation in the south Mediterranean, which is being hosted by Malta through patrols in the sea strait between Sicily, Malta and Libya. This year's operation is estimated to cost Frontex €8 million.
During his address to MEPs, Mr Barrot also appealed to member states to come for- ward and take part in a pilot project the Commission was introducing specifically to help Malta relocate to other EU member states some of the refugees and other migrants with a humanitarian statues now hosted on the island.
Referring to France as the only country that has so far publicly signalled its intention to take 100 refugees from Malta, Mr Barrot said that "this gesture should be emulated by other member states".
In a letter last July, Mr Barrot invited EU member states to pledge by the end of this month how many refugees and other protected persons would they be able to take from Malta.
On its part, Malta is aiming to relocate all the 2,000 eligible migrants it is hosting through the pilot project.