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16th Apr 2024

EU states abandon Italy on relocating asylum seekers

  • Ireland and Lithuania have each agreed to take 10. Luxembourg has also offered to help. (Photo: noborder network)

Calls in early May for EU states to help relocate asylum seekers from Italy have largely been ignored.

The European Commission had appealed for national capitals to help Italy, after some 1,400 people arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

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"Discussions are still ongoing, and we encourage member states to show solidarity and participate in relocation efforts," a European Commission spokesperson said on Friday (4 June), via email.

Ireland was the first to step forward, offering to take in 10 people on 20 May.

Now Lithuania has agreed to take in 10 as well, while Luxembourg has also expressed willingness to help. It is unclear how many the Grand Duchy will take.

In a tweet, Lithuania's prime minister Ingrida Šimonytė linked her decision to "an increased illegal migration via Belarus."

The unwillingness by EU states to help out Rome may be due, in part, to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But it is also political, given past efforts to relocate asylum seekers have been met with resistance.

The overall figures, and lack of solidarity with Italy ,does not bode well for Greece and Malta either, amid speculation more will arrive there over the summer months.

Between January and April of this year, the total number of crossings on the Western Mediterranean route more than doubled, to 11,600.

The United Nations commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, recently described the figures as manageable for member states.

"What we need is a more predictable, more efficient, state-led mechanism to rescue people at sea," he said, last month. It is a call likely to be ignored.

Many are also likely to have been returned to Libya. Its coast guard, in part financed by the European Union, intercepted over 10,300 people last year.

Almost 500 were returned in the span of six days in late May, alone.

Meanwhile, the arrivals for the entire Mediterranean is closer to 30,000, according to UN numbers.

Another 800 have died in the attempt so far this year, says the International Organization for Migration.

Now Italy's prime minister, Mario Draghi, is piling extra pressure on the Libyans to prevent departures.

Last week, he met with Libya's national unity government prime minister Abdulhamid Dabaiba in Rome.

"Italy will continue to do its part in terms of resources and training capacities, but determined and rapid EU action is needed," he said, noting Libya also needs to respect the rights of refugees.

Draghi had managed to get the issue of migration back onto the agenda at the next EU summit in June.

The lack of solidarity with Italy also does not bode well for EU-level initiatives.

Among them is a European Commission plan to better coordinate disembarkation and relocation of arriving asylum seekers.

"We need a temporary arrangement to deal with the situation before we have the pact (asylum and migration reforms) adopted," said EU home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, in May.

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