Two inflatable dinghies carrying migrants make their way towards England in the English Channel, Britain. Image Credit: REUTERS

BRUSSELS, Belgium: Fifteen EU states want “new ways” to handle irregular migrants, including sending some to third countries, in a demand made as the bloc plots out how to implement a recently adopted overhaul of its asylum rules.

The countries presented their joint stance in a letter dated May 15 to the European Commission, which was made public on Thursday.

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It was sent less than a month before European Parliament elections across the 27-nation European Union, in which far-right anti-immigration parties are forecast to make gains.

Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania signed the letter.

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In it, they ask the European Union’s executive arm to “propose new ways and solutions to prevent irregular migration to Europe”.

They want the EU to toughen its asylum and migration pact, which introduces tighter border controls and seeks to expedite the deportation of rejected asylum-seekers.

The pact, to be operational from 2026, will speed up the vetting of people arriving without documents and establish new border detention centres.

The 15 countries also want to see mechanisms to detect and intercept migrant boats and take them “to a predetermined place of safety in a partner country outside the EU, where durable solutions for those migrants could be found”.

They said it should be easier to send asylum seekers to third countries while their requests for protection are assessed.

They cited as a model a controversial deal Italy has struck with Albania, under which thousands of asylum-seekers picked up at sea can be taken to holding camps in the non-EU Balkan country as their cases are processed.

The European Commission said it would study the letter, though a spokeswoman, Anitta Hipper, added that “all our work and focus is set now on the implementation” of the migration and asylum pact.

Differences with UK-Rwanda model

EU law says people entering the bloc without documents can be sent to an outside country where they could have requested asylum - so long as that country is deemed safe and the applicant has a genuine link with it.

That condition differentiates it from a scheme set up by non-EU Britain under which irregular arrivals will be denied the right to request asylum in the UK and sent instead to Rwanda.

Rights groups accuse the African country - ruled with an iron fist by President Paul Kagame since the end of the 1994 genocide that killed around 800,000 people - of cracking down on free speech and political opposition.

The 15 nations said they want the EU to make deals with third countries along main migration routes, citing the example of the arrangement it made with Turkey in 2016 to take in Syrian refugees fleeing war.

Camille Le Coz, associate director of the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank, said: “In legal terms, these models pose many questions and are very costly in terms of resource mobilisation and at the operational level.”

The opening date for migrant reception centres in Albania set up under the deal with Italy had been delayed, she noted.

With the June 6-9 EU elections leading to a new European Commission, the proposals put forward by the 15 countries would go into the inbox of the next commission for it to weigh them, she said.

She also noted that EU heavyweights France, Germany and Spain had not signed onto the letter.

“For certain member countries, the priority really is the implementation of the pact, and that in itself is already a huge task,” Le Coz said.