VILNIUS – The European Commission is taking measures to increase the return of irregular migrants to their countries of origin, Lithuania's European Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius has said.
Figures from the EU's border guard agency Frontex show that 330,000 migrants crossed the bloc's borders illegally last year, a 64 percent increase compared to 2021, according to a press release issued by the commissioner's office on Saturday.
"Currently, EU countries are only able to return around 20 percent of irregular migrants to their countries of origin, that is, around 70,000 people per year," said Sinkevicius. "I hope that Mari Juritsch, who has recently taken office as the EU return coordinator, will be instrumental in tackling this problem."
"But this is not enough. At the next European Council (meeting), (EU) leaders will also discuss other measures to prevent illegal migration and increase the effectiveness of returns. I hope that they will endorse the European Commission's proposals," he added.
The Commission aims to help EU member states to better monitor and control the bloc's external borders and to shorten asylum and return procedures, according to the commissioner.
Lithuania has so far received around 60 euros million in EU funding for its external border surveillance equipment and its modernization.
The Commission also expects to better manage irregular secondary migration within the EU, where people who enter the bloc illegally continue to travel between member countries, through proper registration of migrants in certain systems and databases.
"Climate change, environmental problems and military conflicts will continue to make Europe attractive to migrants," Sinkevicius said in the press release. "The pressure will not ease, which is why the European Commission is already taking measures to prevent illegal migration."
The commissioner discussed the issues with Rustamas Liubajevas, commander of the Lithuanian State Border Guard Service, during his visit to a frontier station on Lithuania's border with Belarus on Saturday.
In recent years, Lithuania has faced an influx of foreign nationals attempting to illegally cross into the country from Belarus.
In response to what it calls a "hybrid attack" by Minsk, Vilnius has adopting a policy of turning away migrants.
Lithuania's officials are also seeking to amend legislation to provide for stricter migration rules in such cases.
Almost 4,200 irregular migrants crossed into Lithuania from Belarus illegally in 2021. The vast majority of them fled Lithuania after they were allowed to move freely.
Over a thousand irregular migrants have been returned to their countries of origin, and another 500 or so have been granted asylum.