EU leaders say illegals can be sent home on charter flights
Brussels — EU leaders agreed last week that the bloc could finance chartered flights to send illegal immigrants home, despite reservations from the European Commission.
Leaders agreed during a two-day European Union summit in Brussels to mount an "examination of the possibility of regular chartering financed by Frontex (the EU border service) of return flights."
Several delegations had deemed the measure "too repressive" and in need of amendment, one diplomat said, but the controversial measure passed unchanged.
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.
EU Commission vice president Jacques Barrot told the French press that 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.
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.