BRUSSELS (AP) — Italy urged its European Union partners Thursday to set up migrant reception centers in northern Africa as efforts to beef up the EU's borders agency falter amid an unprecedented influx of asylum seekers.
At a meeting of EU interior ministers, France, Germany and Austria voiced support for the proposal which could see would-be migrants screened in Niger, Tunisia, Morocco or perhaps Egypt.
"It's about a humanitarian mission which would allow Europe to do screening and to dismantle a huge human trafficking market," Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano told reporters in Brussels.
More than 276,000 migrants entered the EU illegally last year, and conflict-torn Libya is the major jumping off point for people aiming to reach southern Europe.
Italy takes the brunt of the migration wave and its government is concerned that extremists might be slipping into the country along with migrants.
The EU is planning to send immigration officers to some countries outside Europe to establish whether people need urgent help and study what kind of legal migration avenues might be open to them.
A test phase is planned in Niger, where mainly young men from Senegal, Gambia and Mali transit on their way north to escape poverty, according to the International Organization for Migration.
EU migration chief Dimitris Avramopoulos said he would travel soon to Tunisia and Egypt, and later Morocco, "in order to create a zone in this area, to engage these countries."
During the talks, EU presidency nation Latvia urged its 27 partner countries to provide more funds and resources for the border agency Frontex, given broad opposition to creating an EU border guard system.
"The capacity of Frontex needs to be beefed up, and not just in the Mediterranean because the Western Balkans now faces high migration pressure as well," said Latvian Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis, referring to the increasing number of poor people from Kosovo crossing into Hungary.
But while ministers supported these calls, no commitment of funds or resources was announced Thursday.