EU interior ministers are considering plans to finance camps in Africa where the United Nations refugee agency and aid groups would process migrants to prevent them from crossing the Mediterranean into Europe.
The political instability in Libya has made sea crossing from the North African country to Italy a major route for migrants seeking better lives in Europe, but the EU now wants to shut it down and admit only refugees.
More than 4,500 people are known to have drowned last year while making the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean.
The European Union has deployed a naval mission in the Mediterranean and is training the Libyan coastguard to cut the numbers attempting the journey. Now it also wants to return migrants plucked from the sea to where they came from.
“The idea is to send them to a safe place, without bringing them into Europe,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters as he arrived for the talks in the Maltese capital Valletta.
“The people taken up by the smugglers need to be saved and brought to a safe place, but then from this safe place outside Europe we would bring into Europe only those who require protection,” he said.
The camps in Libya or its neighbours would be run by the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR or the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which would screen the migrants and help return those not eligible for asylum to their home countries.