Irregular migration and Ukraine: Federal Councillor Keller-Sutter at meeting of Schengen home affairs ministers
Bern, 14.10.2022 - Federal Councillor Karin Keller-Sutter attended the meeting of Schengen justice and home affairs ministers in Luxembourg on 14 October. Talks focused on the migration and security situation in connection with the war in Ukraine and irregular migration via the Balkan route. Ms Keller-Sutter, head of the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP), called for close coordination among European partner countries.
Federal Councillor Keller-Sutter welcomed the fact that the issue of irregular migration is now being discussed at a political level. At a working lunch with Schengen home affairs ministers, she said it is time to take strong measures. Several countries affected had intervened with the European Commission and the Czech presidency to place this item on the agenda.
Stemming irregular migration on the Balkan route
The main objective is to align the visa policy of the Western Balkan countries. "Their visa policy must not turn them into a hub for illegal immigration at the gates of the Schengen area," said the head of the FDJP. The European Commission has sought talks with Serbia, in particular, with a view to lifting the visa exemption for certain countries by the end of the year. Ms Keller-Sutter also briefed the ministerial meeting on the action plan agreed between Switzerland and Austria at the end of September to curb irregular migration.
The Western Balkans have traditionally been an important transit corridor for irregular migration to the EU. Currently, some countries in the Western Balkans, in particular Serbia, are also points of departure for migrants entitled to enter these countries without a visa. The number of illegal immigrants entering European countries bordering the Western Balkans has risen sharply in recent months. With up to 1,100 people a week being apprehended at the eastern border, Switzerland is also strongly affected by this migratory flow.
Switzerland incorporated into European crisis management
Another topic of the ministerial meeting was the consequences of the war in Ukraine. The influx of refugees, together with a general increase in asylum applications, poses major challenges for many European countries. Over the coming winter, migration from Ukraine to Europe will be heavily influenced not only by the ongoing war but also by the supply situation, especially in regard to energy. Switzerland is contributing CHF 2.8 million to the provision of winter-proof shelter.
At the ministerial conference, Ms Keller-Sutter thanked the Czech council presidency for including Switzerland in the EU's crisis management. She welcomed the fact that a solution for Switzerland's integration into the common registration platform for refugees is taking shape, with Switzerland expected to start using the platform in January 2023. This registration platform checks whether Ukrainians seeking temporary protection may be already registered in another country and fraudulently receiving benefits in several states.
The ministers also discussed security issues in relation to the war in Ukraine. Besides human trafficking, political extremism, hybrid threats or disinformation, another issue is the illegal trade in firearms from the war zone. Ms Keller-Sutter noted that Switzerland supports the EU's enhanced efforts to combat arms trafficking and that close cooperation, such as within Europol, was the right approach to countering the internal security threats associated with the war. She also stressed the importance of protecting the Schengen external border to prevent criminals or potential terrorists from abusing the movement of refugees.
Bilateral talks on migration and Ukraine
On the sidelines of the meeting, Ms Keller-Sutter also had an opportunity to meet with EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson. Among the issues discussed was the desirability of a coordinated approach to Greece's full reintegration into the Dublin system. The Federal Councillor held talks with Lithuania's Minister of the Interior, Agnė Bilotaitė, on the impact of the war in Ukraine and, in particular, the security of the external border and the problem of adapting reception capacities to winter conditions. She also exchanged views with German Minister of the Interior, Nancy Faeser, and Austrian Minister of the Interior, Gerhard Karner.
Prior to the meeting of justice and home affairs ministers, Federal Councillor Keller-Sutter and the Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, signed an implementation agreement on the migration framework credit. With its second contribution, Switzerland is supporting EU countries that are particularly affected by migration. This will also strengthen security at Europe's external borders. Switzerland has allocated CHF 40 million to support projects and programmes in Greece. Similar cooperation is being developed with Cyprus and Italy.
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