19 EU nations want to process migrant arrivals abroad

An Italian coast guard vessel carrying migrants rescued at sea arrives at the Sicilian island of Lampedusa
An Italian coast guard vessel carrying migrants rescued at sea arrives at the Sicilian island of Lampedusa - Yara Nardi/Reuters

Migrants arriving in Europe on small boats should be sent abroad while their asylum claims are assessed, a group of 19 EU countries has demanded.

The nations, led by the Czech Republic and Italy, are calling for a tougher line on migration as the UK forges ahead with its Rwanda deportation plan.

A letter to be sent to the EU Commission on Wednesday was expected to say the bloc should sign deals with non-members, such as states in Africa, to process asylum seekers.

Government sources said the demand showed that other countries were starting to follow Britain’s lead in cracking down on illegal migration.

It is understood that in the letter, the 19 countries will distance themselves from the Rwanda plan by underlining their commitment to European human rights law.

The group hopes that the proposals will be taken forward by the commission after the European elections, which will take place in early June.

An EU diplomat said that “immediate neighbours” would be approached first of all for potential asylum deals, such as countries in North Africa.

They said the plan would also expand the definition of safe countries of origin and “prevent the misuse of migration as a hybrid weapon against the EU”.

Migrants on Lampedusa Island, Italy
Migrants on Lampedusa Island, Italy. The EU now wants to process such arrivals outside Europe - Valeria Ferraro/AP

The prime ministers of the Czech Republic and Italy issued a public call for offshore processing of asylum seekers at a press conference.

Giorgia Meloni, the Italian premier, said: “We agree that to manage migration, the priority is to work on externalisation. Therefore, to work with third countries, to prevent the flow rather than having to manage it.”

Petr Fiala, the Czech leader, added that the plans would amount to “a real solution to illegal migration, which we do not yet have in Europe”.

He said the proposals were backed by 19 members which are thought to also include Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and the three Baltic states.

They are based on an existing pact between Italy and Albania, which was approved by the parliaments of both countries in February.

That deal, which is the first of its kind for an EU country, allows offshore processing of asylum claims but differs from the UK’s Rwanda plan.

Under the scheme, migrants who are intercepted at sea trying to reach Italy will be sent to two detention centres in Albania, which Rome will pay for.

If their claim is successful, they will be resettled in Italy and if it fails, Rome is responsible for arranging their deportation to their home countries.

It is estimated that, once the scheme is fully up and running, it will see some 3,000 small-boat migrants per month diverted to Albania.

‘Fundamentals of our plan make sense’

In contrast, the Rwanda plan is a straight deportation scheme which only kicks in once asylum seekers have physically reached the UK’s shores.

Those arriving illegally will be flown to the East African nation and will have to apply for asylum there, with no option to be resettled in Britain.

A government source said that, despite the differences, the calls for a tougher borders approach in the EU showed that the UK was not alone.

They told MailOnline: “Increasingly, as governments around the world face up to the global challenge of mass migration, they are looking at similar solutions to the one this government has introduced.

“The fundamentals of our plan are making sense to people across the world but not to the Labour Party here, who think scrapping Rwanda and only rebranding a unit already set up by the PM and actively tackling criminal people smuggling gangs is enough.”