EUROPE

EU considers chartering flights to send illegal immigrants home

EU leaders, at a summit in Brussels, have proposed that the Union's border service pay for chartered flights for illegal immigrants back to their country of origin.

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AFP - EU leaders are considering financing chartered flights to send illegal immigrants home, but opponents feel the measure is too repressive and would present a poor image of Europe.

The proposal is included in a draft statement prepared for the two-day European Union summit which got underway on Thursday.

The draft statement, which could yet be altered by the assembled heads of state and government, calls for an "examination of the possibility of regular chartering financed by Frontex (the EU border service) of return flights."

Several delegations deemed the measure "too repressive" and in need of amendment, one diplomat said.

"The proposal will not pass like that," he said.

The idea of charter flights came originally from the French, with support from Italy, one of Europe's frontline countries where illegal immigrants land after perilous journeys from Africa and the Middle East.

Greece and Malta also have to cope with large migrant numbers.

France and Britain organised a joint flight in mid-October to send three Afghan citizens to Kabul from France and 24 from Britain.

Human rights groups protested angrily to that flight.

French Immigration Minister Eric Besson recently spoke in favour of more such joint flights "under the European banner" for the forced return of immigrants to their country of origin.

However he stressed that such forced returns must "respect very strict conditions."

EU Commission vice president Jacques Barrot, in comments to appear in the French press Friday, said the EU nations must find a "balancing point between security and human dignity.

"The national authorities must assure that the migrants involved do not want to apply for international protection," and that any such demand must be rigorously examined, Barrrot added.

National authorities must also ensure that the lives of those returned are "not put at risk," he insisted.

The European Union border agency, Frontex is tasked with patrolling 42,000 kilometres (26,000 miles) of the EU's sea borders and 8,800 kilometres of land frontier.

Earlier this month the agency said it had recorded 14,000 illegal arrivals in Greece alone by sea in the first six months of 2009, an increase of 47 percent over the equivalent period last year.
 

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