Monday

24th Apr 2017

More EU aid possible amid Italian threat to stop migrant rescues

  • Detail of abandoned migrant boat in Sicily (Photo: Paul Keller)

The European Commission is open to requests for further financial assistance to member states under migratory pressure from people fleeing conflicts in Africa and the Middle East.

“In 2014, the EC is ready to consider further requests for emergency assistance,” said a European commission spokesperson in an email.

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Last year, the Brussels-executive doled out around €50 million in emergency funding to member states.

But pressure is mounting for the Brussels-executive to step up aid as tens of thousands risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe.

Italy alone has rescued around 50,000 people since the start of the year, with death tolls continuing to mount. Last weekend, a reported 39 people in an overcrowded boat drowned off the coast of Libya.

Italy’s interior minister Angelino Alfano on Monday (16 June) warned Italian search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea would cease unless the EU intervenes, reports the BBC.

Alfano’s threats were made in Sicily where many of the migrants disembark.

A Kuwaiti oil tanker arrived in Sicily carrying another 356 migrants and one body shortly after Alfano’s remarks.

Money has also become an issue among Italian officials.

The government pays out some €9 million a month to maintain its naval operation Mare Nostrum. Assets include an Italian Air Force Predator drone, patrol boats, two frigate class ships with helicopters, radar stations, and patrol aircraft.

“Most of our ministers are saying that the current financial effort is very high and it would be difficult to sustain it as it is in the long term,” said an EU official close to the issue.

The commission, for its part, points out it provided Italy with funding to help cope with the increased flow of migrants and asylum seekers.

It notes Italy received some €30 million following last October’s Lampedusa tragedy where 366 shipwrecked migrants perished.

Italian authorities received another €10 million to increase and improve the country's emergency reception capacity, as well as sanitary assistance to persons who may be in need of protection.

But the Italians are also unhappy with the current EU asylum rules – the so-called Dublin regulation. The regulation requires the countries where asylum seekers first enter the Union to take care of applications.

Aside from asking the EU to mobilise more resources and reinforce operational efforts, the Italians also want help treating demands for asylum.

“I would expect this issue to be seen in the long term, so it is not only about giving up funds but it is also about getting solutions on this phenomena,” said the contact.

Southern states Portugal, Spain and Malta have also called for greater financial support from the EU.

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Italian right-wing politicians have called for the country's programme to rescue North African refugees from the Mediterranean sea to be scrapped after figures suggested that 1,100 immigrants had been rescued in the past two days.

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The European Commission has called for a meeting this week with EU state experts, following border chaos after the launch of new rules that require systematic checks of EU citizens at the Schengen zone's external borders.

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