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Sweden announces EU immigration reform plans

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08:37 CEST+02:00
The Swedish EU presidency announced on Monday that proposals to reform the union's immigration policy will be presented in September.

The European Union will present proposals on reforming its immigration policy in response to an ever increasing flow of people willing to risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean into Europe.

The proposals concern a so-called "relocation" policy, whereby refugees who land on the shores of Europe's Mediterranean countries would be transferred to other EU member states, as well as a more efficient asylum policy, Swedish Immigration Minister Tobias Billstrm told AFP.

The EU member states' application of the proposed policies would be voluntary, Billström added.

"This relocation project is to be presented in September by the vice-president of the (European) Commission, Jacques Barrot," who is also EU justice commissioner, Billström said.

Regarding the asylum policy reform, which is aimed at establishing refugee quotas in the EU, "we're waiting for a proposal from the commission in September as well," he said.

More than 67,000 people crossed the Mediterranean in 2008 to try to enter Europe illegally, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and some of them have died at sea.

Italy, Malta, Spain and Greece have asked the European Union to help them share the burden of refugees crossing the Mediterranean, usually from Turkey and Libya.

Last week, five Eritrean migrants rescued off the Italian island of Lampedusa said 73 other migrants had perished during the crossing from Libya and that their bodies had been dumped at sea.

European Commission spokesman Dennis Abbott, speaking in Brussels, said the role of the EU's executive arm was a coordinating one, as it was up to the 27 member states to police their borders and set asylum policy.

"We are well aware of the extreme difficulties and the problems which some Mediterranean countries are faced with, and the need to better share the burden at the European level," he said.

"It is about finding the right balance, but we are talking about national competences," Abbott added, stressing that directives from Brussels were not the only way to tackle the problem.

"We spend a lot of money helping third countries to improve facilities so that people do not actually want to leave them in the first place," he told AFP.

The seriousness with which all EU nations treated the issue was demonstrated, he said, in EU summit conclusions which spoke of "firmness, solidarity and shared responsibility" on immigration.

"The commission will help member states to share the burden," he promised.

However, one EU source admitted that immigration and asylum are not such major problems in some northern European member states and that those nations are keen not to increase the rules binding them on immigration policy.

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