COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A majority of European Union members are calling for more agreements with countries where migrants depart from or travel through to get to Europe, saying the bloc needs to think outside the box to tackle irregular migration into the 27-member bloc.

The call by the 15 member countries came in a letter released Thursday, a day after the EU passed a measure to update to its aging asylum laws but which won’t enter force for two years and which only will work if all member nations put all of its provisions into action.

The letter, addressed to the high-ranking officials in the EU’s executive Commission, indicated that officials in signatory countries believe further solutions are needed, saying that the migration situation “will require all of us to think outside the box and jointly find new ways to address this issue at EU level.”

It was signed by the immigration ministers of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Denmark — which took the lead in the group — plus Estonia, Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Romania and Finland.

On Wednesday, the EU endorsed sweeping reforms to the bloc’s failed asylum system as campaigning for Europe-wide elections next month gathers pace, with migration expected to be an important issue. The New Pact on Migration and Asylum lays out rules for EU members to handle people trying to enter without authorization, from how to screen them to establish whether they qualify for protection to deporting them if they’re not allowed to stay.

The letter by the 15 member countries said that the bloc should boost “partnerships with key countries, especially along the migratory routes, by changing our focus from managing irregular migration in Europe to supporting refugees as well as host communities in regions of origin.”

The countries call on the Commission “to identify, elaborate and propose new ways and solutions to prevent irregular migration to Europe” and “comprehensive, mutually beneficial and durable partnerships” with nations located along the migratory routes, saying “different ideas for optimizing such partnerships should be explored.”

The signatories cited, among other examples, deals that the EU has make with Turkey and Tunisia and that Italy made with the Albanian government in which Albania will host thousands of migrants picked up at sea and transferred there by the Italian authorities.

The letter said it was important for member states to have the ability to transfer asylum seekers to “a safe third country alternative” if such an alternative exists, while also saying any new measures would be in full compliance with “international legal obligations.”

The reform passed in Brussels was aimed at resolving issues that have divided the EU since well over 1 million migrants swept into Europe in 2015, most fleeing war in Syria and Iraq.

However, the vast reform package will only enter force in 2026, bringing no immediate fix to an issue that has fueled one of the EU’s biggest political crises, dividing nations over who should take responsibility for migrants when they arrive and whether other countries should be obligated to help.

Critics who say the pact goes to far say that it will let nations detain migrants at borders and fingerprint children. They say it’s aimed at keeping people out and infringes on their right to claim asylum. Many fear it will result in more unscrupulous deals with poorer countries that people leave or cross to get to Europe.


Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.

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