Ministers promised to work together to stop illegal migration before an EU conference in Brussels [EPA]

Six European Union (EU) governments and Canada have vowed to cooperate in cracking-down on illegal immigration.

France and Italy, who seem to be leading the initiative, have recently been criticised for deporting Roma minorities.

Officials agreed to seek "accelerated procedures" for dealing with people whose requests for asylum or immigration have been refused, Eric Besson, France's immigration minister, said following the meeting on Monday.

"We must join in new cooperation in the fight against irregular immigration," Besson said, flanked by his Italian and Canadian counterparts, after the meeting held ahead of an EU ministerial conference in Brussels on September 13-14.

UN criticism

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 a law and order drive by Nicholas Sarkozy, the French president. Protesters in France have condemned the explusions as racist.

Besson denied that France is engaged in "collective expulsions" and insisted the Roma were leaving voluntarily in return for payments.

Roberto Maroni, Italy's interior minister who attended the meetings, comes from the anti-immigrant Northern League party which is part of president Silvio Berlusconi's governing coalition.

He praised France's explusions as a model to follow.

"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.

Curbing arrivals

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

Spyros Vougias, a Greek junior minister who attended the meeting, said 82 per cent of illegal immigrants to Europe entered through his country, which was "no longer able to stem the tide".

Canada's Jason Kenney said meetings with EU leaders had been "very useful" because "a large number of false asylum claims" 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.

Source: Agencies