Brussels - The European Commission offered Tuesday to help member states that agree to take in migrants rescued at sea by providing EU money and expert teams, after Italy's new populist government has taken a hardline stance on the issue.
The number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe has declined this year, but the issue has returned to the headlines as Italy has closed its ports to rescue boats, arguing that other EU countries must take in more migrants.
EU leaders agreed last month to the idea of controlled centres to process migrants arriving in Europe, while exploring the possibility of so-called disembarkation platforms in northern Africa.
Fleshing out these concepts
The commission has now fleshed out these concepts, proposing that controlled migrant centres could be trialled as soon as possible in willing member states where migrants are brought ashore.
"We are ready to support member states and third countries in better cooperating on disembarkation of those rescued at sea," EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said, adding: "But for this to work immediately on the ground, we need to be united."
Under the scheme, the European Union would provide teams of experts to help disembark migrants and identify those in need of protection, while facilitating the return of economic migrants who have no right to stay.
Teams of up to 315 EU border guards, interpreters, asylum experts, security staff and return officers could help with the disembarkation of boats carrying an average of 500 people, the commission said.
6,000€ per relocated person
In addition, member states agreeing to take in asylum seekers could be given 6,000 euros (7,014 dollars) per relocated person, while the countries of disembarkation would receive 500 euros per person brought ashore.
EU ambassadors are due to discuss the proposal on Wednesday, the commission said, with the possibility of rapidly setting up an interim framework.
It is unclear, however, which member states might be willing to host the scheme.
Meanwhile, the commission said its work on disembarkation arrangements in northern Africa will be taken forward at a meeting next week with the International Office for Migration (IOM) and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
The commission, the EU's executive arm, ruled out the detention of migrants or the establishment of camps in northern Africa, while pledging to respect international law and human rights.
Resettlement in Europe
People passing through disembarkation platforms would receive help in returning home if they do not have a genuine asylum claim. Of those in need of international protection, some - but not all - would be offered the prospect of resettlement in Europe.
The EU would cooperate with any interested countries on an "equal footing," the commission said, noting that the bloc could offer support "tailored to their specific political, security and socioeconomic situation."
Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt were all identified as potential disembarkation countries, depending on whether migrants are rescued by EU or third-country vessels.
So far, however, no northern African country has expressed willingness to cooperate on the issue.