Migrants trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean could be taken to 'disembarkation platforms' outside EU territory under a proposal from the UN refugee agency. The idea will be considered next week by European leaders amid a row over immigration policy.
The proposal for "disembarkation platforms" appeared in a draft document drawn up by European Council President Donald Tusk together with the presidents of the European Union and the European Commission.
The document will be put to European leaders in Brussels on June 28 and 29, when they will try to resolve a deepening political crisis over migration policy.
The platforms are reportedly centers for receiving migrants trying to reach Europe, where authorities will decide who is in need of protection and who should be returned to their home countries.
"Such platforms should provide for rapid processing to distinguish between economic migrants and those in need of international protection, and reduce the incentive to embark on perilous journeys," the draft document states.
An EU official told InfoMigrants that the idea came from the UN refugee agency and was included in the Council President’s draft. "President Tusk heard about this idea and was rather interested in it," the official said.
Similar proposals have been put forward by European leaders to externalize the processing of migrants in countries in North Africa. However, according to the official, "because it comes from the UNHCR, this is much more credible."
Political, legal uncertainty
The proposal in the Council draft comes amid strong disagreements between EU member states over responsibility for refugees and several proposals to strengthen border protection and reduce migrant numbers.
The brief reference to a regional disembarkation platform may have been deliberately vague, according to the director of Migration Policy Institute Europe Elizabeth Collett, in order to "head off more hard-line ideas" while at the same time setting the scene "so that everyone feels like they're being heard."
But while it remains vague, any proposal to externalize the European asylum process is complex and according to Collett, probably unworkable.
They're in "uncharted territory, legally and logistically," and major questions have yet to be answered, she says. "Would this be an asylum process with some kind of EU branding, ... or is this a UNHCR determination for people outside the European Union, and the EU just commits to resettle those people?"
Possible sites in North Africa
It is not clear where the centers would be located, but the Brussels official told InfoMigrants that he understood they would be "in third countries outside the European Union."
Media reports that Albania could be the site of such a migrant center were denied by Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU Migration Commissioner, after talks with interior ministers from Western Balkans countries on Tuesday.
"No discussion took place about setting up camps in Albania or anywhere else in Europe," Avramopoulos said.
The EU official contacted by InfoMigrants said he believed the idea was for centers to be established in North Africa. A European source also told AFP that Tunisia was one country being considered.
EU leaders have previously proposed locating such camps in North African countries. With the German government remaining divided over immigration, the Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has announced she is open to the processing of asylum claims in camps in Libya.
The draft conclusions to be discussed next week also include proposals to increase support for the Libyan coastguard and local communities to prevent people from leaving the country.
The summit document - which also includes draft conclusions on security and defense, the economy and other issues - is currently being discussed among the EU's 28 member states.