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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 June 2007, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
EU 'must share burden of asylum'
African migrants rescued after three days clinging to a tuna net
A group of migrants was rescued after days clinging to a tuna net
European Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini has criticised EU member states for not sharing the burden of handling refugees.

More than 180,000 people sought asylum in the EU in 2006, including a steady flow of African migrants crossing to the EU's southern border.

Mr Frattini said not enough help was being given to countries on the EU's frontline, such as Spain and Malta.

He also urged members to honour pledges to give boats to the EU border agency.

Death in the Mediterranean

Mr Frattini was speaking days after a dispute between Malta and Libya left more than 20 African migrants clinging to a tuna net for three days, before they were finally picked up by the Italian navy.

Intra-EU resettlement is an important way to pursue
Commission green paper

Eighteen dead bodies were also recently picked up floating near the Maltese coast by a French ship.

"It was shocking to see people dying in the Mediterranean," he said.

He complained that only one tenth of the 115 boats, 25 helicopters and 23 planes promised to Frontex, the EU border agency, had been handed over.

Mr Frattini also announced a consultation on European Commission plans to shake up the EU asylum system.

A green paper proposes sharing the cost of handling asylum seekers, and resettling migrants from the countries where they arrive in the EU, to other parts of the bloc.

Existing EU rules say that migrants can be returned by any EU country to the first EU country they entered, but the Commission says this leaves countries near the edges of the bloc exposed.

Harmonisation

Mr Frattini also wants to greater harmonisation of the rules for handling asylum applications.

"This will promote EU solidarity and reduce the phenomenon of 'asylum shopping' where applicants move around the EU mainly because of the diversity in member states' applicable rules," the commission says.

According to the UN, 84% of applicants from Chechnya are granted refugee status in Austria, compared to 42% in France, 23% in Germany and 0% in Slovakia.

The green paper also restates an intention to draw up a list of "safe" countries, from which it would not be possible to claim asylum.

More than 30,000 African migrants landed by boat in Spain's Canary Islands last year, many of them seeking refugee status.

The UK, France, Sweden and Germany each deal with more than 20,000 asylum requests per year.

At the other end of the scale, Estonia had only five asylum requests in 2006, followed by Latvia with 10.




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