The leaders of Belgium and Sweden and the European Union’s chief executive promised on Wednesday to tighten border security and step up repatriations after a failed asylum seeker from Tunisia shot dead two Swedish football fans in Brussels.
They spoke after paying tribute to the victims of Monday’s attack in the Belgian capital, home to the EU institutions, and condemning what they branded a brutal terrorist attack.
The shooting has highlighted the EU’s persistent difficulties in managing asylum and migration, including security gaps and failures to return people deemed not to have the right to stay in the 27-nation bloc.
Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said Europe’s open-border Schengen zone would not survive unless the EU’s external frontiers were better protected from unwanted immigration.
“If we are not able to protect our common borders, we will not be able to uphold free movement within Europe,” he said.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said the EU also needed a more effective system of returning unauthorised immigrants.
“This is something we need to tackle and can only do that in a coordinated way,” he said.
The 45-year-old gunman arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa in 2011 and then lived in Sweden before claiming asylum in Belgium. He lost his case in 2020 and was ordered to leave the country.
Under the law, he would have had 30 days to leave on a voluntary basis. But the order was never delivered, even though the man was known to the police.
Sweden’s public broadcaster STV quoted a court verdict in reporting the shooter had been jailed in Sweden for drug crimes.
The European Commission said the bloc’s new migration pact would help prevent such situations by allowing swifter deportations of foreigners who are deemed a security threat.
“Europe is the solution, provided we get these (new) rules enacted,” EU Commissioner Margaritis Schinas told a news conference.
The EU has long blamed low rates of returns on what it says is unwillingness of countries of origin – including Tunisia – to take people back. It said member states had issued 420,000 return decisions last year but only 77,000 were implemented.
The new pact has been tentatively agreed by most EU countries and is now being further negotiated with the European Parliament, with officials hoping for a deal this year.