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IMMIGRATION

Italy beats EU average on helping refugees

Italy gave protection to 64 percent of people claiming asylum in the country last year, nearly double the EU average of 34 percent, figures released on Monday show.

Italy beats EU average on helping refugees
A man waits behind a fence at a refugee centre in the Italian island of Lampedusa, the landing point for thousands of migrant. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Italy approved 16,185 asylum applications in 2013 and rejected 9,060, according to figures from the EU’s Eurostat agency. A total of 3,110 people were given refugee status, while 13,075 more people at risk were given lower levels of protection and allowed to stay in the country.

Nigerians, Pakistanis and Somalis made up the highest numbers of asylum-seekers in Italy, compared to the broader European picture where most people seeking refuge in 2013 came from Syria, Russia and Afghanistan.

Across Europe, the number of people seeking asylum jumped from 335,000 in 2012 to 435,000 last year. Fifty thousand of these came from Syria, although the EU’s 28 countries took just a fraction of the 2.5 million registered refugees fleeing the country’s three-year conflict.

The new figures show that Italy received six percent of the EU’s total asylum applications, while Germany topped the chart with 29 percent, followed by France, Sweden and the UK.

While Italy is among the top countries in Europe for asylum-seekers, the number is relatively low when compared to the country’s large population. There were just 470 applications per million people in Italy last year, well below the European average of 860 and far from Sweden’s 5,680 or the 5,330 in nearby Malta.

Although the Eurostat data show that Italy was better than many European countries in granting asylum, the country has recently come under fire for its treatment of people seeking asylum. Last month the UK’s Supreme Court blocked the deportation of four asylum seekers, over claims that they would face mistreatment if sent back to Italy.

READ MORE: UK to probe Italy migrant mistreatment claims

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POLITICS

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.

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