The European Commission says it's ready to start negotiating an agreement with Nigeria to send back Nigerian migrants who do not qualify to stay in the European Union.

The Commission said in a statement Wednesday that the move would ensure that returns are done "rapidly and efficiently." It said the so-called readmission agreement would respect international law.

Around 22,000 Nigerian nationals crossed the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe last year, according to the EU's border agency, Frontex.

The EU only provides international protection to people fleeing conflict or violence.

EU member states must still give the green light for the readmission talks with Nigeria to begin.