ANGELA Merkel today performed an extraordinary U-turn on mass migration as Germany ordered the EU to begin turning back boats full of asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean.
Her interior ministry said Brussels should send out patrols to intercept smugglers’ vessels and escort them back to north Africa, marking a massive shift in Germany’s official migration policy.
At the moment the EU and member states operate search and rescue operations to save refugees crossing the Mediterranean in often unseaworthy ships, who are then brought to the European mainland to claim asylum.
But now Germany, which has taken in well over a million migrants in the last year, has said that policy should scrapped because it is simply encouraging more people to make the perilous journey.
More than 4,000 asylum seekers are believed to have drowned at sea this year alone, more than the 3,771 deaths reported for the whole of 2015.
The spike has been caused in part by more and more migrants attempting the risky sea crossing from Libya to Italy after the safer passage between Turkey and Greece was shut off by an EU deal.
On top of that, beleaguered Mrs Merkel has come under huge political pressure over her enormously unpopular open door asylum policy, which has seen a number of humiliating electoral defeats inflicted on her party in regional elections.
There has been talk in political circles of her one-time allies ousting her as leader of the country unless she agrees to significantly harden her stance on refugees and win back the confidence of voters.
And today she appeared to respond to that clamour as the interior ministry announced a significant sea-change in its stance towards mass immigration to Europe.
In a statement the ministry said: “The elimination of the prospect of reaching the European coast could convince migrants to avoid embarking on the life-threatening and costly journey in the first place.”
It added that the EU should adopt a new policy of intercepting refugee boats at sea and returning them to Africa noting that this would “save migrants from the life-threatening journey” and “remove the basis for people-smuggling organisations.”
Under the plan people would be returned to Brussels-sanctioned refugee camps in Tunisia, Egypt and other peaceful north African states, but not to war-torn Libya from where most journeys across the Mediterranean are attempted.
It is thought that the EU could persuade African countries to accept migrants back with a similar deal to the one offered to Turkey earlier this year, under which Ankara secured billions of euros in aid and visa-free access to the Schengen zone for its 80 million citizens.
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