Wednesday

22nd Nov 2017

EU has 'no silver bullet' for Italy on migrants

  • Timmermans: "People who flee war and persecution should find shelter" (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission said €35 million in additional funds and EU refugee resettlements from Africa could help Italy cope with irregular migration.

It also said Italy should expel more economic migrants, while lamenting that other EU states had failed to show solidarity.

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  • Austria planning to send soldiers to Italy crossing point (Photo: Reuters)

Frans Timmermans, the Commission’s second in command, unveiled its response to Italy’s recent cry for help in Strasbourg on Tuesday (4 July).

He said EU interior ministers would discuss the measures at an informal meeting in Estonia on Thursday after Italy threatened to close its ports to NGO rescue boats and after Austria said it was preparing to send soldiers to its border with Italy.

The alarm call came after 12,000 people arrived in Italy in the past few days, pushing numbers so far this year more than 20 percent higher than in the same period last year.

Timmermans said Europe’s door should remain open to people in need despite the political problems that caused.

“We would not be the European Union without the values we share and one of those values is that people who flee war and persecution should find shelter,” he said.

“This issue will not go away tomorrow, or next year, not in a decade - it is here to stay for generations,” he said.

The Commission plan published on Tuesday restated the need to implement previous accords.

The list included EU support for the Libyan coast guard and border guards, sending more staff from EU migration agencies to Italy, increasing aid to African countries that migrants come from or transit, and reforming EU asylum laws which, currently, place the burden on frontline states such as Italy and Greece.

It promised €35 million to help Italy build up migrant reception centres and “additional funding”, but with no amount mentioned, to pay people in Libya and Niger to go home instead of coming to the EU.

The Commission also said there should be “a new resettlement pledging exercise, notably from Libya, Egypt, Niger, Ethiopia and Sudan” to take in UN-registered refugees in an orderly way.

It said Italy ought to “step up returns” of non-refugees.

It also said the EU should “possibly endorse” a new “code of conduct” for NGO rescues that is being drafted by Rome.

Timmermans admitted there was little new in the list, which made no mention either of migrant quotas or of Italy’s request for rescued people to be taken to other EU states in the region.

The EU two years ago voted to share 120,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy, but fewer than 20,000 out of them were taken in amid boycotts by Poland, Hungary, and others.

“I’m not saying we’re coming up with a silver bullet,” Timmermans said of Tuesday’s plan.

“It would already make world of difference if they [member states] just did what they agreed to do before [on quotas],” he added.

“If it needs more money … we will find the funds,” he said of Italy.

He said the NGO code of conduct could help reduce the risk of accidents at sea and remove what he called “misunderstandings” amid accusations that NGO rescues encouraged migrants to come.

He added that unless economic migrants were returned home in greater numbers, Europeans would lose the “will” to help refugees.

Speaking earlier on Tuesday in the European Parliament, some MEPs voiced anger at the status quo.

“We’re not racist, we’re realistic,” Mara Bizzotto, from Italy’s far-right Lega Nord party said, adding “it’s time to physically close the ports”.

Kristina Winberg, from the far-right Swedish Democrats party, said: “We need to say No to NGOs transporting people in boats from Libya to Italy. I know people will talk about international law and asylum law, but we need to find a solution”.

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Italy is set to unveil a "code of conduct" for NGOs, while interior ministers from all 28 EU states meet later this week to discuss rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

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Italy's action against NGOs is wrong

With the code of conduct Italian authorities are trying to impose on NGOs that rescue migrants in the Mediterranean, people would be forced to endure additional days at sea while states tussle over which port to send them too.

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David Miliband heads the US-based International Rescue Committee, an international aid organisation. In an interview with EUobserver, he says the EU should take over 500,000 refugees.

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