Wednesday

16th Jun 2021

Italy's 'nuclear option' on migrants unravels

  • People head to EU states that offer better protection and reception (Photo: Alice Latta)

Italy will likely meet a legal blockade if the country pursues its reported plans to issue temporary travel visas for migrants.

The Times newspaper said on Saturday (15 July) that senior government officials want to use a so-called "nuclear option", to grant migrants stuck in Italy the right to move to other EU states.

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But the proposal is based on an obscure EU directive that can only be activated by a qualified majority decision in the Council of the EU, representing member states, and based on a proposal by the European Commission.

Neither one of these is likely to happen.

The EU's temporary protection directive was created after the 1999 Kosovo crisis, to provide blanket protection to large numbers of people fleeing conflict.

An EU official noted on Monday (17 July) that the directive, known as 2001/55, also only applies when "one nationality was seeking asylum in large numbers".

In 2015, Italy had issued similar threats given its broader frustrations with the lack of help from other EU states after large numbers of people arrived at its shores.

Other efforts to grant asylum seekers travel rights are also likely to meet resistance.

EU law bans asylum seekers from being issued residence permits, which would allow them to travel around the passport-free Schengen area. It means they must remain in the country dealing with their asylum process or be returned, if caught.

In practice, such return rules under the so-called Dublin regulation are not being applied correctly, causing frustration among EU states.

Efforts to reform Dublin have instead been met with resistance as governments bicker about the principles of solidarity and responsibility sharing.

Rather, people tend to move and travel to EU states that offer better protection and reception.

These diverging levels of protection and reception have been described by experts as "drivers of onward movement".

Some stuck in Greece, for instance, still manage to travel up through the Western Balkans to reach Germany or Sweden.

Non-asylum seekers

People not seeking asylum, however, fit into a different category.

EU states can issue long-stay visas, residence and travel permits to non-EU citizens. Such rules are not governed by EU law.

Instead, the EU only provides a set of guidelines should there be a sudden large-scale inflow of migrants.

Those guideline stipulate that the EU state "should opt for issuing residence permits or provisional residence permits that are not equivalent to a short-stay visa if the migrants do not meet the conditions for travelling within the Schengen area."

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