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23 Jan, 2024 23:33

‘Nothing can stop’ immigrants – EU border chief

Frontex head Hans Leijtens wants a more “humane” migration policy
‘Nothing can stop’ immigrants – EU border chief

The EU needs to focus on blocking illegal crossings while making it easier for asylum seekers and economic migrants to come in, the new head of the bloc’s border protection agency Frontex, Hans Leijtens, has said.

On Tuesday, the German outlet Berliner Zeitung reported on the quotes Leijtens gave to another publication, Die Welt, the day before. Rather than simply implementing the EU’s migration rules, the Dutch official has advocated for “more humanity” and less “xenophobia and prejudice.”

“Nothing can stop people from crossing a border, no wall, no fence, no sea, no river,” Leijtens told Die Welt. He described the bloc’s immigration policy as “a lot of wishful thinking and an often exaggerated choice of words.”

Frontex is the fastest-growing EU agency. Its budget went from €364 million ($395 million) in 2020 to €859 million, while its staff has nearly doubled, from 1,200 to 2,200. Its “standing corps” is supposed to be the EU’s first uniformed and armed police force, to number 10,000 by 2027. 

Leijtens, 60, is a former lieutenant-general in the Dutch police who once commanded a Dutch security mission in Afghanistan and fought corruption in the Caribbean, among other things. He was appointed director-general of Frontex in December 2022, with the mission of establishing “secure and well-functioning external borders” of the EU. 

“Sometimes it is pretended that you can simply put a cap back on the bottle and then the migration will be stopped. But that is a misconception,” he said. Instead of turning back immigrants on the borders and the high seas, or swiftly deporting those whose asylum claims are ruled groundless, Leijtens has proposed a four-step plan for “good border management.”

Step one is a crackdown on people-smuggling and illegal crossings, while opening up legal immigration. Step two is ending “alarmism” and “superficial preoccupation” with migration, which “is a reality,” he said. Step three is to ensure the EU knows exactly who is coming in, and step four is properly processing asylum applicants and deporting those who fail, because “the rule of law prevails here.”

Last November, the European Parliament passed amendments to the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), seeking to curb illegal immigration. The changes call for processing asylum seekers at the external border and deporting failed applicants immediately.

More than a million people applied for asylum in the EU last year, most of them in Germany, almost reaching the record of 1.3 million from 2015. Though around half of the applicants were rejected, only one in five have been deported, because their countries of origin refuse to take them back. In 2023, Frontex registered 380,000 “irregular” border crossings into the EU, a 17% increase over the previous year.

“This talk of ‘stopping people’ and ‘closing borders’ cannot be our narrative all the time. My job is to create a balance between effective border management and compliance with fundamental rights,” Leijtens told Die Welt.

He is willing to make deals with Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt, because the EU “depends on the capabilities and will of these countries” to combat “irregular migration.” However, Brussels “must provide something in return: visa facilitation, more legal routes into the EU, and economic support,” Leijtens added. He has ruled out negotiations with Libyan militias, however, describing them as human rights violators and potential war criminals.

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