The leaders of Belgium and Sweden and the European Union’s chief executive promised on Wednesday (18 October) 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 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 brodcaster STV quoted a court verdict in reporting the shooter had been jailed in Sweden for drug crimes.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc’s new migration pact would help prevent such situations in the future by allowing swifter deportations of foreigners who are deemed a security threat.
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 final deal this year.
EU migration ministers will discuss the plans in Brussels on Thursday, as will national leaders next week.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack. In a video posted online before he was killed by police, the shooter called himself Abdesalem Al Guilani. Belgian state broadcaster RTBF named him as Abdesalem Lassoued.
The incident comes amid heightened security concerns linked to the Israel-Hamas conflict, though prosecutors said the gunman had appeared motivated more by Koran burnings in Sweden.
In August, Sweden raised its terrorism alert to the second-highest level and warned of an increase in threats against Swedes at home and abroad after the burnings outraged Muslims and prompted jihadist threats.