The European Union wants to send more people back to Africa, the Middle East and Asia

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – European Union immigration ministers will meet on Thursday to discuss visa restrictions and improve coordination within the bloc so they can send more people who are not entitled to asylum in Europe back to their countries of origin, including Iraq.

Three years after the 27-nation European Union agreed to restrict entry visas to countries deemed not to cooperate in repatriating their citizens, the Gambia has only been formally sanctioned.

The European Union’s executive European Commission proposed similar steps with regard to Iraq, Senegal and Bangladesh, although two EU officials said cooperation with Dhaka on the return of people had improved since then.

However, the total effective rate of return in the European Union was 21% in 2021, according to Eurostat data, which is the latest available.

“This is a level that member states consider unacceptably low,” said one EU official.

Migration is a very politically sensitive topic in the bloc as member states would rather discuss escalating returns, as well as reducing irregular migration in the first place, than revive their bitter disputes over how to share the task of caring for those who do. to Europe and win the right to stay.

“The establishment of an effective and common European system for returns is an essential pillar of well-functioning and credible migration and asylum systems,” the commission said in a discussion paper for ministers seen by Reuters.

About 160,000 people will arrive across the Mediterranean in 2022, according to United Nations data, the main route to Europe for people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. Moreover, nearly 8 million Ukrainian refugees are registered throughout Europe.

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The ministers are meeting two weeks before the 27 EU leaders meet in Brussels to discuss immigration, and are also expected to call for more people to be sent away.

“There is a need for swift action to ensure an effective return from the EU to countries of origin using all relevant EU policies as leverage,” their draft joint statement, also seen by Reuters, said.

But within the EU, there are insufficient resources and coordination between the various parts of government to ensure that everyone who has no right to remain is returned or deported, according to the Commission.

“Inadequate cooperation with countries of origin presents an additional challenge,” she added, citing naming problems including the recognition and issuance of identity and travel documents.

But pressure by immigration chiefs to punish some third countries with visa restrictions has in the past thwarted EU foreign and development ministers, or failed due to conflicting agendas in many EU countries.

So there has not yet been enough of a majority among EU countries to penalize one country other than Gambia, where people can no longer obtain multiple entry visas to the bloc and face a longer waiting period.

While EU countries including Austria and Hungary are vocally protesting irregular, Muslim-majority migration from the Middle East and North Africa, Germany is among those seeking to open up the labor market to much-needed workers from outside the bloc.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska); Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop. Editing by Jonathan Otis

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