In this Oct 30, 2022 photo, a boy fishes as police border guards on a boat patrol along the Evros River that forms a natural border between Greece and Turkey. Visa restrictions were discussed by the EU ministers on the subject of visa restrictions to repatriate more migrants who are not eligible for asylum. The European Union migration ministers met on Thursday to discuss visa restrictions and better coordination inside the bloc to be able to send more people with no right to asylum in Europe back to their home countries, including Iraq.
Three years after the 27- nation EU decided to restrict visas for countries deemed not cooperating on taking their people back, only Gambia has been formally punished.
The EU's executive European Commission proposed similar steps vis-a-vis Iraq, Senegal and Bangladesh, though two EU officials said cooperation with Dhaka on returning people has since improved.
According to Eurostat's data, the EU's overall rate of effective returns stood at 21% in 2021.
According to one of the EU officials, that is a level that member states consider unacceptably low.
Immigration is a politically sensitive topic in the bloc, where member countries would rather talk about stepping up returns, as well as reducing irregular immigration in the first place, rather than revive their bitter feuds over how to care for those who make it to Europe and win the right to stay.
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The Commission said in a discussion paper for ministers that an effective and common EU system for return is a central pillar of well-functioning and credible migration and asylum systems.
According to UN data, some 160,000 people made it across the Mediterranean in 2022, the main route to Europe for people fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. Nearly 8 million Ukrainian refugees were also registered across Europe.
The ministers meet two weeks before the 27 EU national leaders gather in Brussels to discuss migration, and are expected to call to send more people away.
The draft of their joint statement was seen by Reuters, which shows how swift action is needed to ensure effective returns from the European Union to countries of origin.
There are insufficient resources and coordination between different parts of the EU to make sure a person with no right to stay is effectively returned or deported, according to the Commission.
It added that there is an additional challenge to naming problems including recognizing and issuing identity and travel documents because of insufficient cooperation of countries of origin.
In the past, migration chiefs have acted against the EU's foreign and development ministers, or failed due to conflicting agendas of various EU countries.
There is not enough majority among EU countries so far to punish another country apart from Gambia, where people can no longer get multiple entry visas to the bloc and have a longer wait.
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While EU countries such as Austria and Hungary protested against the mainly Muslim, irregular immigration from the Middle East and North Africa, Germany is trying to open up their job market to much-needed workers from outside the bloc.