Member states are pressing to get Morocco and Tunisia onto a list of so-called “safe third countries” on to which to offload people seeking asylum.
The move appears linked to stalled plans for setting up centres in countries rimming the Mediterranean to take in disembarked rescued migrants at sea.
It means, for instance, a sub-Saharan African who travelled through Morocco to reach Europe could be sent back to Morocco to have his asylum case heard.
In a letter, seen by EUobserver, the European Commission has tasked the EU support asylum agency (EASO) to help draw up an safe third country list on behalf of the EU states.
The list includes Montenegro, Serbia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, and Ukraine.