Five Mediterranean countries have called on the European Union to do more to help them tackle intense migratory pressure from political upheaval in the region including Libya.
Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain issued a joint communique after a meeting in Nicosia, detailing proposals on how best to manage and prevent illegal migration, asylum and protect refugees.
The communique urged the European Union to "practically offer operational as well as financial support to Member States which face mass and disproportionate mixed migration flows."
Tuesday's gathering came after a Rome meeting in February at which France also backed the initiative.
It was attended by home affairs and internal security ministers plus a representative from Spain.
The five expressed concern over the events in North Africa and the greater Middle East, saying they threatened the stability of the Mediterranean which is "directly linked to the security and stability of the EU."
EU Mediterranean members say they are feeling the pressure of "massive illegal immigration" flows, and that a more coordinated approach from Brussels is needed for those on Europe’s southernmost borders.
They asked for more effective EU action and additional funds to lessen the burden on those nations on the immigration frontline.
The Cyprus interior minister, Neoclis Sylikiotis, said at a news conference that the European Union "must act collectively -- we are on the frontline and must not be left alone to face these challenges."
He said the Mediterranean countries wanted more financial, technical and material support from Brussels, as well as a coordinated common European immigration and asylum system by 2012.
"We are not satisfied with what’s been provided so far," Sylikiotis said.
The five also called for repatriation programmes to be reinforced and a review of the Dublin II regulations that determine which EU states are responsible for processing asylum claims.
"It’s extremely important border countries discuss problems which at times we face to a high degree," Malta’s Justice Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici told reporters.
"This is not just a national problem but a European problem which needs European instruments to solve, instruments based on stability," he added.
He said Europe needed to respond with more effective measures to what is happening in Libya and elsewhere.
"People are fleeing for their lives in Libya because they are afraid to die and we need to respond with extraordinary measures."
Italy, Malta, Greece and Spain are bearing the brunt of migration pressure from North Africa, and the political unrest that has rocked Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in recent months has raised fears of an even greater influx.
Italy in particular has stepped up appeals for help to Brussels after being swamped with Tunisian refugees.
Rome’s deputy interior minister Alfredo Mantovano dismissed any suggestion of an attempt by this group to pass the buck for migrants to someone else.
"None of our countries are demanding to shed their responsibility -- we express the need for this burden to be shared," he said.
Mantovano said that over the past three months Italy had received 30,000 people from Tunisia and 8,000 fleeing Libya, but now the emergency in Tunis had subsided Italy was starting to repatriate people.
The southern Mediterranean countries are now expected to campaign for their demands to be adopted by the EU’s justice and home affairs ministerial council next month.
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