EU nations demand tougher borders to prevent ‘migration crisis’

Eight EU nations called on Brussels to significantly toughen the bloc's borders to "prevent another large-scale migration crisis," according to a letter seen by AFP ahead of a key summit.

EU nations demand tougher borders to prevent 'migration crisis'
A policeman stands guard in the new closed migrant camp in the Greek island of Kos on November 27, 2021. (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP)

The overall tone on migration has hardened in Europe since 2015-2016, when it took in over a million asylum-seekers, most of them Syrians fleeing the war in their country.

Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia sent the letter dated Monday to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council President Charles Michel.

They said it was “high time” for a “comprehensive European… approach for all relevant migratory routes” to tackle irregular migration.

The letter called for “additional financial support” within the existing budget to enhance “relevant operational and technical measures for effective border control”.

It also urged “significantly increasing swift returns of third country nationals” and concluding new partnerships and safe third country arrangements.   

Some member states are facing “levels of arrivals and applications equivalent to, or higher than, those seen during the migration crisis in 2015 and 2016,” the letter added.

At the end of January, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said she was confident that asylum reform — under discussion since September 2020 — would be adopted before the European elections in 2024.

The EU has earmarked six billion euros to protect its borders for the 2021-2027 period.

Several countries, including Austria, have called for EU funding to strengthen fences along the bloc’s external borders to reduce the flow of asylum-seekers.

But the commission has so far been reluctant, saying that “building walls and barbed wire” is not the right solution.

EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said last month that member states could sign up to a pilot scheme over the first half of this year to speed up screening and asylum procedures for eligible migrants — and “immediate return” for those not deemed to qualify.

Von der Leyen said she wanted the EU to draw up a list of “safe countries of origin”, and for the bloc to strengthen border monitoring on the Mediterranean and Western Balkans routes migrants use to get to Europe.

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REPORT: Majority of Swedish for Immigrants classes have ‘clear quality issues’

Four out of five providers of Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) classes have clear quality issues, a new report from Sweden's schools watchdog has found, with schools failing to help students practice spoken Swedish or adapt material to individual needs.

REPORT: Majority of Swedish for Immigrants classes have 'clear quality issues'

The report, by Skolverket, the Swedish National Agency for Education, found that the quality of teaching across different SFI providers differed greatly, with only six of the 30 providers the agency investigated providing good quality teaching. All of the other 24 providers had issues, with three of them displaying serious failings. 

In the report, Skolverket looked into both distance learning and on-site classes, finding that students in distance classes in particular rarely had the chance to practice speaking Swedish.

“If students at SFI do not have enough of a chance to speak Swedish, the barrier for them to enter into society and the labour market is raised,” the agency’s director-general, Helén Ängmo, wrote.

“Many contacts in society rely on being able to participate in dialogue, with healthcare, agencies or schools. It is worrying that we’re still seeing many clear issues with the quality of SFI, for example with distance classes and with the level to which they are adapted to individuals.”

Despite the fact that online classes often allow teachers to adapt the course material to students’ abilities to a greater degree, they are in general less varied, as students are often required to do more work at home by themselves with less chance of practicing speech and writing skills together with other students.

Another common issue was the fact that many providers don’t offer students a chance to practice Swedish used in everyday situations, with many students wanting to learn how to hold conversations with people and communicate with governmental agencies and authorities.

At one SFI provider, students told inspectors at Skolverket that they were still unable to communicate with staff at the supermarket, for example, despite having studied SFI for a relatively long time.

Other students felt that they had had to learn from their own children how to communicate with staff at their children’s school or preschool, with this subject matter lacking in their SFI studies.

Students who already had better Swedish skills were often not challenged enough in class, and the opportunities for students to influence teaching were low.

In the providers where teachers more often tailored classes to students’ interests, experience or goals, students were more likely to work with examples from their everyday lives, such as healthcare workers practicing language used in the healthcare sector, help with language used when collecting children at school or how to fill in different types of forms.

In these classes, the report reads, teachers were more likely to adapt and target exercises to individual students or groups of students, when relevant.

Another aspect which affected the quality of teaching was teachers’ expectations of their work. In classes where teachers felt there was a lack of assistance from school leadership, a lack of opportunity for teachers to work together with other teachers, or where they felt not enough time was dedicated to contact between teachers and students in online courses, the quality of teaching was more likely to be worse.

In order to fix these issues, the agency wrote, teachers need better support in developing and adapting teaching to individual students. Only 55 percent of SFI teachers in the 2022/23 academic year had a teaching qualification to teach SFI at adult level for that year, which, the agency writes is “not enough”.

Online classes have potential, it wrote, but need to be developed, as they offer the chance for students to combine studies with their work lives or parental leave, for example. However, it said, these students should have equal opportunity to develop their Swedish communication skills than students participating in classes in person.

The agency stressed the importance of SFI for Sweden as a country. 

“Getting the opportunity to learn Swedish to communicate in everyday life, the community, the workplace and in studies is important for students who do not have Swedish as their native language,” the agency wrote in a press release. “That is why municipal-run Swedish for Immigrants classes for adults play an important role.”