LUXEMBOURG—European Union nations agreed on Thursday to speed up the deportation of failed asylum seekers as they took a harder line toward tackling the bloc’s worst migration crisis since World War II.
Interior ministers endorsed a dedicated program to send back those they described as economic migrants who are largely from poor African nations and not refugees from conflict zones.
After months of tensions over the more than 600,000 people who have flooded into Europe this year, Brussels is now taking a tougher stance by focusing on tightening border controls and reducing the incentive for people to come to the continent.
“Those who do not require international protection must return to their countries of origin,” Luxembourg minister Jean Asselborn, whose country holds the EU presidency, told reporters after the talks.
Europe has been seeking to clamp down on people smugglers in the Mediterranean, where more than 3,000 people have already died this year, or are missing feared drowned, while trying to make their way to Europe.
European warships launched Operation Sophia this week to seize traffickers’ boats in international waters, and the UN Security Council is set to vote Friday on a draft resolution to authorize military action against smugglers.
While the vote is not necessary for the EU to take action, the measure would authorize its navy to board ships for inspection, confiscate them and even dispose of vessels suspected of being used by migrant smugglers.
Within the EU, the migration crisis is causing political problems in many countries where anti-immigration and euro-skeptic parties are on the rise, as well as divisions between the bloc’s 28 members.
Tempers have flared over a scheme to relocate 160,000 people, which Brussels forced through despite stiff opposition from Eastern European nations, under which the first batch of refugees will be moved on Friday.
EU officials on Thursday also held talks with ministers and officials from the neighboring Balkans countries, which have been on the front line of the influx on the bloc’s borders, as well as Syria’s neighbors Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.