4th Dec 2023

EU to study Italian state of emergency on migration

  • A Sea Watch International reconnaissance flight spotted a total of two large boats on Tuesday night, with up to 450 people on board each (Photo: Sea Watch International)
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The European Commission says it cannot yet comment on Italy declaring a state of emergency on migration.

A commission spokesperson told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday (12 April) that they first need "to see what the state of emergency implies", noting that it is Italy's national competence to make such declarations.

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  • Italian PM Georgia Meloni: The Italian government's decision to declare a state of emergency reportedly makes it easier for Rome to repatriate them migrants (Photo: Hermann Tertsch and Victor Gonzalez)

"Italy has also requested financial support in order to address the recent significant increase of sea arrivals," said the spokesperson.

The Italian government's decision to declare a state of emergency on 11 April, for six months, frees up some €5m for regions dealing with arriving migrants. But it also reportedly makes it easier for Rome to repatriate them.

It comes at a time when the number of people dying during the central Mediterranean crossing is the highest since 2017. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which collects the data, documented 441 deaths on the route so far this year.

"I fear that these deaths have been normalised. States must respond," said IOM director general, António Vitorino, in a statement.

But those responses are unlikely to involve charity rescue operations, following a Rome-led clamp down on the NGOs.

Last month, Italy impounded the charity rescue boat Louise Michel after having rescued 180 people.

And aggressive tactics by the Libyan coast guard, backed by the EU and Italy, has seen them fire shots near the Ocean Viking, another charity boat.

The IOM says delays in state-led rescue efforts in at least six incidents has also so far this year led to 127 deaths.

"The complete absence of response to a seventh case claimed the lives of at least 73 migrants," it said.

Almost 32,000 people reached Italy in the first three months of this year. Of those, around 3,000 arrived over the Easter weekend alone.

Frontex, the EU's border agency, says the central Mediterranean route in the first quarter saw nearly 28,000 irregular border crossings, three times the number from a year ago.

The arrivals are in part sparked by violence in Libya and increasingly in Tunisia, which is facing economic collapse.

Italy has been prodding Tunis to sign off on an almost €2bn loan from the International Monetary Fund out of fear that a crisis will lead to more boat departures.

But the government in Tunis, under the autocratic leadership of its president Kais Saied, is stalling amid a crackdown on sub-Saharan migrants.

At only 185km from the Italian island of Lampedusa, the country has since become the main departure point of migrants and people seeking protection in Europe.

Meanwhile, an EU scheme to relocate people arriving on the shores off Italy and elsewhere, launched last June, has also so far failed to deliver any real results.

The plan founded by the French EU presidency, which had been hailed as historic, sought to relocate 10,000 people in need of international protection. But to date, only 884 have been relocated and of those, 512 came from Italy.

France also late last year announced it would no longer accept some 3,500 people, following a spat with Italy over the disembarkation of migrants rescued by the Ocean Viking.

The European Commission admits the take-up on relocations is lagging. "We're looking into this possibilities of further accelerating or relocations," said a spokesperson.

Paris-Rome spat exposes EU 'solidarity' rift on asylum

The European Commission says solidarity on migration remains — despite Paris refusing to relocate some 3,500 asylum seekers from Italy under a French EU presidency-inspired proposal to distribute thousands of people across member states.

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