Tonio Borg, Malta's home affairs minister, urged EU nations to share the cost of taking in African refugees, describing the current situation as "a complete mess".

 

"Most member states are silent, rather than opposing," Borg said, adding that he was disappointed his EU counterparts were not more eager to help.

 

Small island

 

"Each year 600 immigrants are dying on the threshold of Europe … It is unbelievable that on the doorstep of Europe we are having this tragic situation and not enough is being done"

Toni Borg, Maltese home affairs minister

Borg said his small island nation was unable to handle the hundreds of migrants it has to rescue in national and international waters off its coast, adding it could no longer house those rescued outside its territorial waters without EU aid.

 

"Each year 600 immigrants are dying on the threshold of Europe... It is unbelievable that on the doorstep of Europe we are having this tragic situation and not enough is being done."

 

He said his country had taken in 350 migrants this year, 250 of those in the past two weeks.

 

Spain, Malta, Greece, Cyprus and Portugal have all appealed for other EU nations to demonstrate solidarity. However, other nations have been hesitant to give more than financial aid to help stop the flow.

 

However, EU ministers have agreed to "fully respect" international conventions in rescuing people stranded at sea, following reports that co-ordinated efforts to deal illegal migrants from Africa were not working.

 

Sweden made a separate appeal for other EU nations to accept more refugees from Iraq. The Nordic nation has been swamped with applications and is expected to receive 20,000 additional claimants this year, well above any other member state.

 

The UN's refugee agency has predicted some 40,000 Iraqis will likely reach EU nations this year, and says about 50,000 people flee the country every month.

 

Dutch amnesty

 

UNHCR has predicted 40,000 Iraqis will likely
reach EU nations in 2007 [GALLO/GETTY]
On Tuesday, Dutch parliament agreed to an amnesty for about 30,000 illegal immigrants in the country, in a clear break with the tough policies of the previous government.

 

The move, known as the "general amnesty", was backed by the three parties making up the governing coalition: the Christian Democrats (CDA), Labour (PvdA) and a small Christian party.

 

The measure provides for any asylum seeker who arrived in the Netherlands before 2001 and was refused asylum but was not actually expelled to be granted a residence permit, as should family members who arrived before December 2006.