Luxembourg: Britain urged the European Union on Thursday to speed the deportation of people who do not qualify for asylum as the EU struggles with its biggest refugee emergency in decades.

More than 500,000 people have arrived this year seeking sanctuary or jobs, sparking the EU’s biggest refugee emergency in decades.

But of people who fail to obtain asylum or residency in the 28-nation EU, less than 40 per cent actually go back. The failure of countries to fully apply the law is seen as a major flaw in the EU’s joint migration policy.

“We need to see Europe upping its game,” Britain’s interior minister, Theresa May, told reporters ahead of talks with her EU counterparts in Luxembourg.

She said the EU “should be sending economic refugees back to their countries of origin. It’s why we need to crack down on those who are abusing our asylum system.”

May urged Britain’s partners to take more refugees directly from camps outside Europe, in places such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan — which is Britain’s policy. Britain has announced it will accept 20,000 Syrians from refugee camps over the next five years.

EU ministers pushed Thursday to speed up the deportation of failed asylum seekers in a bid to curb Europe’s migration crisis, ahead of key talks with officials from the Balkans and nations bordering Syria.

In a sign of a tougher approach to the worst migration crisis since the Second World War, European interior ministers want a dedicated programme to send back “economic” refugees who are largely from African nations.

The meeting comes a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande both called for an overhaul of the EU’s asylum system, as they made a rare joint speech to the European Parliament.

Merkel said the current Dublin regulations — which put the burden on Mediterranean states such as Greece and Italy by saying asylum applications must be handled by the first state in which a migrant lands — were “obsolete”.

However Austrian Chancellor Werner Fayman said planned EU “hotshots” on Europe’s outer borders to better deal with the influx of thousands of refugees are far from ready, after he visited one such site in Greece.

“In terms of timing and organisation, nothing has been thought through,” Werner Faymann told Austrian public radio in an interview. “A lot more has to happen ... There are gaps everywhere.”

On Thursday, the ministers from the 28 EU nations are debating draft proposals to increase the ability of member states to speed up both voluntary and forced returns of failed asylum seekers in cooperation with their countries of origin.

“The EU and its member states must do more in terms of return,” according to a copy of the draft conclusions obtained by AFP. “Increased return rates should act as a deterrent to irregular migration.”

Europe has seen more than 600,000 illegal arrivals this year as people flee conflict in Syria and other countries, while more than 3,000 people have died while making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.

Luxembourg minister Jean Asselborn — whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU — said the issue of returning failed asylum seekers to their countries of origin was “important”.

He said the issue would be addressed at a summit of EU and African leaders in Valetta in November “so that we can concretise returns.”

The interior ministers will later Thursday join EU foreign ministers as well as their counterparts from the neighbouring Balkan countries of Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo, together with ministers from Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, which host the greatest number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

The aim is to tackle the flow of refugees who leave Turkey and land in Greece then make their way through the Balkans to Hungary, Austria and Germany.

Last month EU ministers overrode opposition from Eastern European nations to approve a plan to redistribute 160,000 refugees.

A first batch of Eritreans, believed to be around 20 people, is due to be relocated to Sweden from Italy on Friday.

Economic powerhouse Germany has taken the lead in admitting refugees but is so overwhelmed by the numbers — predicted at up to one million asylum applications this year — that it is also stressing the need to return economic refugees.

“We can only take and support people who are in need of protection,” German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters as his government expects to take in one million refugees this year alone.

He also sought to use European development funds as leverage to ensure countries of origin take back economic refugees.

The draft proposals say: “A fine balance of incentives and pressure should be used to enhance the cooperation of third countries on readmission and return.”