Brussels: Sweden and tiny Malta are to appeal to European Union counterparts on 12 May to help share the burden of hosting African and Iraqi refugees instead of keeping their doors shut to the flood of asylum seekers.
Malta came under fire two weeks ago from EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini because of its reluctance to rescue 27 migrants stranded in its waters.
During talks between EU justice and interior minister on 12 June in Luxembourg, Maltese Home Affairs Minister Tonio Borg is expected to call for more EU solidarity in taking in illegal migrants, saying its small infrastructure allowed it to take in limited numbers.
Previous appeals by Malta, Spain, Portugal and Greece for EU assistance, however, have gotten a lukewarm response, while earlier attempts to share the responsibility of taking in refugees have failed.
EU officials want to get clarity from Malta and other Mediterranean EU members over whether they are applying international conventions and rules in rescuing people stranded at sea, following reports that coordinated efforts to deal with the recent flow of illegal migrants from Africa were not working.
Late last month, 27 migrants were left clinging to a tuna net for three days off Malta’s coast after being denied access to a Maltese fishing boat.
Two weeks ago, a French naval frigate found the bodies of 18 people believed to be migrants off the coast of Malta.
The incidents promtped angry statements from EU officials, and added urgency to EU efforts to launch new monitoring and patrol missions by the EU’s external borders agency, Frontex.
The patrols are to resume next week, after being suspended in early April when the agency’s 2006 mission ended.
However, pledges to give the agency enough ships, planes and helicopters have so far not been met, EU officials said.
So far, only 10% of 115 boats, 23 airplanes and 25 helicopters pledged have been delivered to Frontex, EU officials and diplomats said, raising questions of how effective EU patrols will be as the flow of migrants increases over the summer across the Mediterranean.
The EU agreed last year to step up patrols off the coast of Africa, notably off Spain’s Canary Islands, to keep people from embarking on often dangerous crossings from sub-Saharan Africa in search of a better life in Europe. Many end up on overcrowded boats that capsize or sink along the way.
EU officials expect a tough debate among the EU ministers on the problem. “This is not going to be an easy one,” said Frattini’s spokesman Friso Roscam Abbing.
Sweden also has appealed for its EU counterparts to take in more Iraqi refugees, with about 50,000 people fleeing the country every month, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
In April, EU nations said there was no urgent need to accept more Iraqi refugees.
Swedish Migration Minister Tobias Billstrom, whose country has taken in the highest number of Iraqis, has urged EU counterparts to back moves for sending more humanitarian aid and for creating a separate fund to help EU nations hosting refugees.
The UNHCR has predicted some 40,000 are likely to reach EU nations this year, double the number last year.
Sweden received 8,950 asylum applications from Iraqi nationals last year. The Netherlands was No. 2, receiving 2,765 applications, followed by Germany, which received 2,065.
EU diplomats said Sweden was expected to face 20,000 applications this year.