Austria’s Interior Minister Herbert Kickl (L) and his Italian counterpart Matteo Salvini at an EU-Interior Ministers Conference on Security and Migration. Photo: Hans Punz/AFP.
Austria’s far-right Interior Minister Herbert Kickl used a meeting of his EU counterparts in Vienna Friday to suggest processing migrants on board rescue ships in the Mediterranean, rather than on land.
During a press conference with his far-right Italian counterpart Matteo Salvini, Kickl said his suggestion would be for “those arriving on a boat in the territorial waters of an EU state”.
While not providing any more detail, Kickl said he envisaged a “quick way to clarify which migrants are entitled to claim asylum”; they would then be brought to the EU while the others would be returned to “safe ports” in third countries.
Kickl said this would help solve what he called the “problem of repatriation”. “Once people have set foot on the continent, you can only remove them with great difficulty and much expense,” he said.
He added that the aim of the EU’s asylum policy should be to make it “impossible to claim asylum except from outside the EU, and that claims be decided outside the EU”.
The Austrian branch of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) condemned Kickl’s remarks.
“This proposal is simply another attempt to distract attention from the real issue, namely the inability of Europe and of Austria’s EU presidency to find a sustainable solution to the humanitarian crisis in the central Mediterranean and Libya,” MSF said in a statement.
The group urged leaders to “put the protection of human life at the centre of their efforts”.
Salvini said he supported the proposal of his Austrian colleague, with whom he has formed a controversial anti-immigration “axis” along with their German counterpart Horst Seehofer.
Kickl and Salvini both want to put pressure on other EU states to consider more “radical” ideas to reduce the number of migrants reaching Europe.
This week’s meeting in Vienna brought together ministers and officials from the EU as well as African states to discuss cooperation on migration policy.
Kickl also criticised the EU’s migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos for his reticence towards the idea of “disembarkation platforms” for migrants in unspecified third countries, which was endorsed by EU leaders at a summit in June.
Avramopoulos was also at the meeting and repeated his scepticism of the idea, calling it “impossible” because of the lack of a host country.
“This idea is only two months old and already the Commissioner is throwing in the towel,” Kickl said, branding Avramopoulos’s statements a “bad signal” that could “free African states from their obligation” to cooperate.
Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco — who sent representatives to the Vienna meeting — have all been approached about hosting such centres but all have refused.
Kickl said that on migration issues, “one would think that we have different interests but the problems are shared” between Africa and Europe.
Avramopoulos also underlined the need for more EU-African cooperation.
Despite the considerable fall in the numbers of migrants arriving in Europe since the crisis of 2015, the issue of immigration continues to be one of the most contentious within the EU and is expected to be high on the agenda when EU leaders meet for an informal summit in the Austrian city of Salzburg on Wednesday and Thursday next week.