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EU ministers vow migration cooperation

(PARIS) - Six EU governments and Canada vowed Monday to boost cooperation in cracking down on illegal immigration, led by Italy and France, who has drawn criticism for deporting Roma minorities.

Officials agreed to seek "accelerated procedures" for dealing with people whose requests for asylum or immigration have been refused, said French Immigration Minister Eric Besson.

"We must join in new cooperation in the fight against irregular immigration," Besson told a news conference after hosting the meeting, held ahead of an EU ministerial conference in Brussels on September 13-14.

Besson was flanked by Italy's Interior Minister Roberto Maroni as well as his Canadian counterpart Jason Kenney and junior ministers from Greece, Britain, Germany and Belgium, which holds the rotating EU presidency.

The French government has drawn criticism from UN experts and human rights groups for clearing Roma from camps and deporting them to EU members Romania and Bulgaria as part of President Nicolas Sarkozy's law and order drive.

Maroni's party, the anti-immigrant Northern League which is a pillar of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's coalition, has praised France's expulsion of Roma as a model to follow.

Besson denied France is engaged in "collective expulsions", insisting the Roma were leaving voluntarily in return for payments, and reiterated his insistence that France was respecting EU laws on freedom of movement.

Maroni said Italy had cracked down on unauthorised migration by boat from North Africa and was looking at curbing arrivals from elsewhere in southeast Europe, notably via Turkey.

"The next step in this process is to create a unified European system in legislative terms so that all countries have the same rules and standards in order to better manage a significant phenomenon," Maroni said.

The Greek representative Spyros Vougias said 82 percent of illegal immigrants to Europe entered through his country, which was "no longer able to stem the tide".

Kenney said meeting with the EU leaders had been "very useful" because "a large number of false asylum claims" and human-trafficking posed a threat to Canada's immigration system.

The ministers said Canada received the third-biggest number of asylum claims in the world in 2009 and France the second-biggest after the United States.

The seven countries at the meeting together received more than 183,000 asylum requests in 2009, accounting for half of the total in industrialised nations.


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