The home affairs ministers of Malta, Cyprus, Greece, and Italy meet in Rome today in their efforts to keep the issue of illegal migration and asylum high on the EU's agenda.

This is the second meeting of the Quadro Group, formed by the four EU member states. The initiative aims to ensure that the momentum gained during the past French EU Presidency, in addressing the major southern European illegal migration issue, is kept up during the Czech and upcoming Swedish EU presidencies.

However, immigration already seems to be slipping off the Czech Presidency's agenda and Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Vondra has been quoted as saying that while the Mediterranean was important they had far more serious problems to solve.

The gas dispute between Ukraine and Russia and the war in Gaza were sidelining illegal immigration.

The Quadro's first meeting was held last November and, since then, technocrats from the four states met to draft a paper on the issue, which will be presented to fellow EU ministers on Thursday and Friday at the first informal meeting of the year of EU justice and home affairs ministers.

Today's meeting, being attended by Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, is hosted by Italian Home Affairs Minister Roberto Maroni who has been insisting on the immediate repatriation of any illegal immigrants arriving in Italy. The decision does not seem to have been put into practice yet and it was still unknown how the Italian government planned to bypass its international obligations.

Mr Maroni visited the Italian island of Lampedusa last Friday and said Italy wanted to give a clear signal that anyone who arrived (in Italy) will be sent home.

In reaction to the Italian instant repatriation decision, the Maltese Foreign Affairs Ministry had said it will "wait and see" how the decision will be implemented. It also said that, in the case of Egyptian nationals, Italy would not be re-inventing the wheel because even Malta immediately repatriated any Egyptians who arrived illegally.

During today's meeting, the ministers are expected to approve a document highlighting other issues of common interest, convinced that security in the Mediterranean region was directly linked to the security of the EU as a whole.

Stating that the influx of illegal immigrants was causing considerable strain on the four countries, the document calls on the EU to "take urgent action" with a view to put into practice the principle of solidarity and fair burden-sharing.

The quartet will call on the EU to step up readmission negotiations with third countries. Moreover, the Quadro Group will note that the Mediterranean was becoming a transit area for drug and other illicit trafficking from Africa and Eastern regions. It will also acknowledge that it was "highly likely" that illicit proceeds from such activities might be financing terrorism.

The European Pact on Immigration and Asylum gave new impetus to the definition of common immigration and asylum policy.

"Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Malta call for intensifying the EU's efforts with a view to conclude the ongoing negotiations with third countries, especially with Morocco, Turkey and Algeria, and open negotiations with key countries of origin and transit," the document being discussed today says.

"Unless success is registered in this area, the EU's efforts in the field of legal migration will inevitably be compromised. The ministers consider that the Commission should be given the necessary mandates and additional resources to negotiate and conclude such agreements."

The home affairs ministers will discuss cooperation to implement practical measures to ensure the return of illegal immigrants, particularly in relation to the procurement of travel documents and the organisation of joint flights.

The Quadro Group will also discuss the strengthening of Frontex, the EU's border control agency, by providing it with the necessary financial resources and have member states provide it with the operational resources.

The present illegal immigration scenario in the Mediterranean has often required the four countries to rescue people at sea even when this fell outside their legal areas of responsibility.

While stating that they were willing to continue to overstep their responsibilities when necessary to save lives at sea, the four countries say they feel that other member states should also shoulder part of this burden by assuming long-term responsibility for some of the people rescued.

The Quadro Group will also call on the Council and the Commission to set up the European Asylum Support Office at the earliest adding that their countries should be assisted through resources and additional forms of support to address the consequences of the over-burdened national asylum systems.

They will call on the EU to strengthen cooperation with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to ensure better protection for people outside EU territory who request protection.


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