European Union migration ministers are meeting in Stockholm to review migration policies, especially on returning migrants with no right to asylum back to their home countries.
The gathering is considered an informal meeting ahead of the meeting of all 27 EU heads of state February 10, where migration is expected to top the agenda.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the meeting, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said the EU saw "irregular" arrivals by migrants increase to 300,000 last year. The block also saw 924,000 asylum applications.
She said, "that means we have three times more asylum applications than irregular arrivals, and these are overloading the reception capacities and many of those [migrants] are not in need of international protection."
Johansson stressed the need for the EU member nations to address the issue of irregular migration.
The Reuters news agency reports the EU currently returns about 21% of incoming migrants, according to the latest available data.
Sweden's Minister for Migration Maria Malmer Stenergard said the issue of returning those not eligible for asylum would be a focus of Thursday's meeting in Stockholm. Sweden currently holds the rotating EU presidency.
Immigration has been a sensitive issue in Europe in recent years, with bitter disagreements over how to care for immigrants who arrive in Europe and who has the right to stay.
Reuters reports, citing U.N. data, that about 160,000 people made it across the Mediterranean to Europe in 2022, fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia.
An additional eight million people displaced by the war in Ukraine entered the EU from the east. The majority have since returned home.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser stressed that the humanitarian treatment of refugees is very important for Germany and said there must be legal routes to travel for those fleeing untenable situations at home.
She said, there also must be "appropriate measures" taken in the case of irregular migration. "In my view, this can only be done at the European level," she said.
Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.