Human trafficking feared behind asylum boom

The number of asylum seekers from Eritrea went from a monthly average of ten to over 500 in July, leading the justice minister to put a halt to granting asylum to Eritreans until human trafficking concerns can be addressed.

Human trafficking feared behind asylum boom
Eritrean migrants queue during a daily food distribution in the French port city of Calais. Photo: Pascal Rossignol/Scanpix
An explosion in the number of asylum seekers from Eritrea has Denmark’s justice minister worried about human trafficking. 
Throughout the first quarter of 2014, roughly ten Eritrean asylum seekers arrived in Denmark each month. In July, that number jumped to 510, raising red flags for Justice Minister Karen Hækkerup.
“We need to learn more about who the asylum seekers from Eritrea are, why they are coming to Denmark and if they have a legitimate need for protection. If not, they should be sent back,” Hækkerup said in a press release. 
The Danish Immigration Service (Udlændingestyrelsen) is currently investigating the situation and until its results are ready, Denmark will not be granting asylum to Eritreans. 
Hækkerup said that the sharp increase in asylum seekers could be a sign of organised human trafficking. 
“It is quite striking when the travel pattern of a particular group of asylum seekers suddenly changes so radically and without any obvious explanation, as is the case here. I know that the police have a strong focus on fighting human trafficking and the Danish National Police have announced that there is already a comprehensive effort underway to determine if this could be a case of organised human trafficking,” she said.
The International Crisis Group warned earlier this month that Eritrea was facing an acute “youth exodus”, with large portions of the nation’s young people fleeing the Eritrean government’s authoritarian rule.
“The impact of the exodus on final-destination countries demands a new approach to the current Eritrean government. In a Europe where immigration policies are increasingly in question, the Eritrean problem cannot be ignored”, Comfort Ero, the International Crisis Group’s African programme director, said in a statement. 
Last month, a man was arrested for smuggling six Eriteans across the Øresund Bridge, while a van filled with Eritreans was turned away at the border between Italy and Austria. Just this week, the Italian navy said that it has saved nearly 100,000 boat migrants this year, most of them from Eritrea, Somalia and Syria. 
A report from Voice of America on the Eritrean exodus can be heard below. 

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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.