EVIAN, France—The European Union’s five biggest countries agreed Tuesday to organize joint flights to send back illegal immigrants and create joint naval patrols in the Mediterranean to stem the tide of people being smuggled into southern Europe by organized gangs.
Ministers said the first flights could depart within a matter of days.
Interior ministers and officials from Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain agreed they would also step up identity checks on trains and on east-west highways to prevent illegal immigrants moving around Europe once they had entered the EU’s border-free Schengen zone.
France, Italy and Spain said they would conduct joint naval operations to
stop the trafficking of people seeking to get into Europe without documents, thousands of whom head for the Italian island of Lampedusa, Malta and the southern coast of Spain.
Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu of Italy said the price charged by traffickers for shipping someone into Europe has increased from USD 1,500 dollars (EUR 1,250) in 2004 to as much as USD 2,500 (EUR 2,100) this year.
Spanish Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso called for the setting up of joint flights to repatriate illegal immigrants.
Pisanu said such flights already have been carried out between Germany and Italy, sending immigrants from the same country back home on the same plane.
The problem is that such failed asylum seekers need a document called a consular laissez-passer to get back into their countries, and these are sometimes not forthcoming, leaving immigrants in legal limo. The ministers said that countries that fail to make these re-entry documents available would receive fewer visas for their citizens to enter the EU.
French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy came out in support of a tough line on clandestine immigration.
“Only those who have proper papers will enter our countries,” he said, promising that anyone else will be expelled in a “rapid and effective” manner designed to convey a message.
The officials also agreed to further their joint action against narcotics by organizing joint operations and research in the Atlantic in cooperation with Morocco and the assistance of the European police agency Europol.
They said they would improve facilities for exchanging DNA evidence and fingerprints, set up a new warning mechanism for forged documents, create a common system for tracing and identifying stolen automobiles and adopt the same software tools for establishing ballistic evidence.
Sarkozy also called for an annual debate on immigration in France. The minister, who has called for a dramatic stepping up of expulsions of illegal immigrants, said it was not a question of preventing people coming to Europe.
“We want the world’s best students in our countries, not those people nobody wants,” said Sarkozy, who argues for immigration quotas aimed at bringing qualified workers to the EU.