EU Commission fails to agree on list of safe countries for refugees and illegal immigrants

EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini said the 24 commissioners, under Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, decided to delay their expected agreement on a draft list, which was to be presented to EU justice and interior ministers next week.

Frattini said, however, that a person applying for asylum from a country on the EU list would not be automatically rejected.

The bid to draft a list of "safe countries" is part of arduous efforts by EU states to stem the influx of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. Officials said there is no disagreement within the EU executive on the principle of such a list, only on which nations should be on it and what criteria to use to judge them as safe or unsafe for returning asylum seekers, the AP reports.

A preliminary draft seen by EU ministers last month listed only eight African nations - Mali, Benin, Mauritius, Tanzania, Ghana, Senegal, Botswana, and Cape Verde - as deemed to offer safe standards of human rights and protection from persecution.

EU governments have for years struggled to agree on such a "safe country of origin" list and on criteria on how to assess whether a country is safe enough so that asylum seekers from that country can go home.

The idea would allow EU nations to deny refugee status or asylum to applicants from those countries on the list, which would be regularly reviewed. It is separate from EU rules on safe "third countries" to which asylum seekers can be returned if they passed through them on the way to Europe.

The "safe country" plan is part of efforts to set up a common EU immigration and asylum policy by 2010.