EU talks migration as Italy, Germany worry over increased arrivals

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser addresses members of the media, in Berlin, Germany, September 27, 2023. REUTERS/Liesa Johannssen

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union's migration ministers meet in Brussels on Thursday to discuss how to handle migrants arriving by sea as Italy and Germany worry over increased immigration, with Berlin launching border controls inside Europe's zone of open travel.

The ministers will have another go at agreeing a long-stalled mechanism to share out asylum seekers who reach Europe beyond regular border posts, and discuss whether the 27-nation bloc should seek a deal with Egypt to prevent more people from embarking from the southern shores of the Mediterranean.

Critics have said a recent such agreement with Tunisia falls short on human rights but more potential deals are on the cards as Rome sounds alarm over Lampedusa arrivals topping those in 2022 when Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni won national elections on an anti-immigration ticket.

"There is a lot of unrest in (the) direct neighbourhood of Europe," said one senior EU diplomat. "As to whether we should or should not have more such agreements, the answer is most likely going to be a 'yes' from a majority around the table."

Focus is on Germany and whether Interior Minister Nancy Faeser brings a coalition deal to Brussels that would allow Berlin to back the so-called "crisis mechanism" for distributing refugees and migrants in the bloc to avoid overwhelming Italy and other countries of first entry.

On Wednesday, Faeser announced border checks with neighbouring Poland and the Czech Republic after Germany saw a nearly-80% rise in asylum requests so far this year, a concern for the centre-left ruling coalition facing a challenge from the far-right in local elections in Bavaria next month.

Such controls inside what should normally be the EU's zone of open travel highlight how difficulties in handling those fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and south Asia challenge cooperation inside the bloc.

The EU has been pushing tougher anti-immigration policies since more than a million people reached its southern shores in 2015, catching the bloc by surprise and overwhelming security and reception capacities in countries including Italy.

The 27-member governments have since struggled to modernise their shared asylum and migration rules - including the "crisis mechanism" - especially as they want to look in control for their voters ahead of a pan-EU parliamentary election in 2024.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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