BRUSSELS — The European Union moved Wednesday to speed up the return of unauthorized migrants, announcing plans to punish countries that refuse to take back their nationals by restricting visas for their diplomats.
While the number of people entering Europe in search of better lives has dropped dramatically over the past year, EU countries only send back around half of migrants denied visas, often because the migrants have lost or destroyed their ID documents and it’s difficult to establish their nationality. Fake ID is also often used.
France, for example, is angered that Mali routinely refuses to take back people that Paris insists are from there.
Formalizing a threat already made to some African countries by EU member states, the EU’s executive Commission announced that it has “a new mechanism to trigger stricter conditions for processing visas when a partner country does not cooperate sufficiently.”
The aim is to target decision-makers by dragging out the application time for diplomatic visas, hiking costs or cutting short their stays.
At the same time, the Commission said it plans to make tourism visas more attractive. It would allow for earlier applications, electronic visas, and strictly limited stays of one week in one EU country.
But the price of visas — already beyond the means of most Africans — would rise from 60 to 80 euros ($74 to $99), leaving many heading to Europe in search of better lives with little incentive to apply.
“With these changes, we will keep Europe’s door open for bone fide travelers but closed for those who pose security risks,” said EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.
Avramopoulos said he would shortly travel to Niger — a transit hub for many migrants bound for Europe via Libya — for talks with regional leaders, and that he would try to “convince these countries to take back their nationals.”
“Readmission of own nationals is an obligation under international law,” he said.
Also Wednesday, the Commission said it was mobilizing the second 3-billion-euro ($3.7 billion) tranche of refugee money for Turkey, even though the move was endorsed several weeks ago.
The money is aimed at helping Turkey cope with some 3 million Syrian refugees on its territory, and is part of a package of incentives offered to Ankara to persuade it to stop migrants trying to reach Europe.
The Commission sees the EU-Turkey agreement as a great success and wants to reproduce elements of it in pacts with other countries, mostly in northern Africa.
The announcement comes as the European Court of Auditors said in a report that billions of euros spent to help bring Turkey into line with EU standards for membership has only had a limited effect.
The court underlined that Turkey had shown little political will for reform in some sectors, notably the fight against high-level corruption and organized crime, and ensuring an independent justice system.
It said the Commission did not make best use of the leverage it has to persuade Ankara to reform.