ROME (Reuters)—Immigration is a time bomb for the European Union and members must work far more closely with each other if the bloc is to control the flood of refugees, the EU’s incoming Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner said.
“People seeking asylum for economic reasons is a growing problem,” Rocco Buttiglione, Italy’s European Affairs Minister for the last three years, said in a telephone interview from southern Italy. “It’s a time bomb.”
Criteria need to be agreed for identifying and extending asylum to economic refugees and for offering aid to nations where immigration originates to prevent the massive exodus from swamping the European Union, he said.
He also backed calls for a common European border control and backed a German proposal to set up immigrant camps or holding centers outside the EU—an idea that has been greeted skeptically by some human rights groups.
But Buttiglione, a soft-spoken philosopher and fervent Catholic, said the centers would not infringe on human rights.
“We have to ask transit countries to establish the camps that would take in immigrants who, for example, arrive from sub-Saharan Africa, to offer them humanitarian aid and information about job possibilities in Europe,” he said.
“But they would also investigate, identify and send back those who don’t meet criteria or who would not be able to integrate in our society.”
Buttiglione said Europe could help coordinate the camps but that it would be up to countries like Libya or Tunisia that see a large flow of migrants passing through on their way to Europe to decide whether to establish them or not.
ITALY AT CENTER OF IMMIGRATION DEBATE
Buttiglione was one of a team of EU commissioners announced earlier this month. The new European Commission is expected to be endorsed by parliament in October.
Italy has been at the center of the immigration debate in recent years as thousands of immigrants risk their lives trying to make it to the country’s shores. But most of them aim to travel on to other European countries.
Just Saturday, a boat carrying 113 people, apparently Palestinians, landed on the island of Lampedusa. Earlier this month, nearly 30 African immigrants died of cold and dehydration while making the crossing to Italy on a rickety wooden boat.
German Interior Minister Otto Schily has proposed establishing immigration “gateways” outside Europe to intercept them and repatriate those who did not meet legal migration requirements before they try to enter the EU.
Italy’s Green Party and the Caritas Christian charity group have said the centers “risk turning into concentration camps.”
Buttiglione said any such measures would require greater coordination and cost-sharing within the EU.
The idea of a common EU border police needs to be examined more closely as well as the setting up of a unit to coordinate antiterrorism efforts in the region, he said. “This could be done through the coordination of information as well as the exchange of people. Some things are already under way.”
The idea was not to create a police state or fortress Europe, he said, adding: “Obviously someone who has to flee from a dictatorship that wants to kill them is offered asylum.”
“But the reality is there are also natural disasters that mean people don’t have a house to return to. Look at sub-Saharan Africa. What can be done about them? We have to talk about it.”