LUXEMBOURG - Migrants rescued at sea should be taken to centers in north Africa where their claims for asylum in European Union countries can be studied, German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere proposed Thursday.
De Maiziere made the suggestion as he arrived for a Luxembourg meeting of EU interior ministers who are trying to slow the migrant flow from Libya to Italy after a March deal with Turkey sharply reduced the influx to Greece, the main entry point for Europe last year.
"People who are rescued in the Mediterranean should be brought back to safe accommodation facilities in northern Africa," de Maiziere told reporters.
"Their need for protection would be verified and we would put into place a resettlement to Europe with generous quotas, fairly divided between the European countries," the minister said.
"The others have to go back to their home countries," he added.
EU countries, confronting populist opposition to refugees, have long feuded over quotas for relocating asylum seekers from Greece and Italy as well as for resettling people from refugee camps.
De Maiziere did not mention a specific country in north Africa but EU officials have been discussing efforts to curb the migrant flow with Libya, the main transit point for African migrants heading to Europe.
However, Libya's new national unity government last week rejected calls from some EU countries to build refugee camps on its shores, saying the bloc could not "shirk its responsibility" while it struggled to restore peace and stability.
Several EU countries, including Austria and Hungary, have been pushing for EU deals with north African countries to send back rejected asylum-seekers as a way of dealing with Europe's worst migration crisis since 1945.
Hungary's populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban recently said the EU should build "a large refugee city" on the Libyan coast to process migrant asylum claims.
More than 140,000 migrants have made the journey to Italy on overcrowded boats since the start of this year, latest figures show, with some 3,500 drowning in the attempt.