Saturday

28th Nov 2020

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • 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”.

Italy imposing new rules on NGO sea rescues

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.

Opinion

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.

News in Brief

  1. Brexit talks pick up pace once more
  2. MEPs back US trade detente
  3. Iran diplomat to stand trial in Belgium over 'France bomb plot'
  4. Trump says he'll leave if Biden wins Electoral College vote
  5. EU Parliament: Polish abortion ban risks womens' lives
  6. UN experts warn against racial profiling
  7. EU auditors raise red flag over maritime protection
  8. Four students charged in France's beheading case

EU demands answers on Croat border attacks against migrants

EU commissioner Ylva Johansson wants to send her officials to Croatia sometime this month to make sure authorities there are complying with fundamental rights following numerous allegations of violence against migrants and asylum seekers attempting to cross into the country.

EU watchdog launches probe on Croat border violence

The European Ombudsman is launching a case into the lack of proper oversight by the European Commission when it comes to how fundamental rights of migrants and refugees are allegedly being violated by Croat border police.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  2. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  4. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector

Latest News

  1. Erdoğan jails hundreds for life, as EU weighs relations
  2. Italian energy giant director advising EU foreign policy chief
  3. Poland and Hungary say rule-of-law link needs treaty change
  4. Portuguese presidency to focus on social rights and India
  5. The under-reported power struggle at the top of the OSCE
  6. Poland hammered on women's rights in EU debate
  7. EU 'front-line' states want clearer migration rules
  8. Von der Leyen tells Poland and Hungary to go to court

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us