x

Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Italian anger as EU states refuse to back migrant plan

The southern European country had hoped that fellow members of the union would take more refugees rescued from the Mediterranean sea

European nations rejected Italian pleas for more nations to take migrants rescued from the Mediterranean. AP
European nations rejected Italian pleas for more nations to take migrants rescued from the Mediterranean. AP

EUROPE // Italy’s hopes that fellow European states would take more of the wave of migrants sailing to the continent across the Mediterranean were dealt a blow yesterday.

A meeting of EU interior ministers in Talinn issued a statement of support for the Italian government, but made no pledges to take action to help their southern European counterpart, which took in 180,000 migrants last year and has already taken in 85,000 so far in 2017.

According to The Times, Germany, France, Spain and the Netherlands turned down Italian demands that other countries with Mediterranean coasts took in more migrants who had been picked up by rescue boats, a plan reported in The National on Monday.

Instead, in what is being portrayed by the Italian opposition as a calculated rebuke to the country, these EU states backed a plan that would see millions of euros funnelled to Libya, the prime point of departure for refugees fleeing Africa for Europe.

Matteao Salvini, of the anti-immigrant Northern League, bemoaned that “Italy was [becoming] a giant refugee camp”. While fellow EU states such as Austria were moving soldiers to their borders to stop migrants coming in, to “barricade and defend“, Italian ministers “discussed” the problem.

Renato Brunetta of Forza Italia decried “another postponement. The invasion continues from week to week, the emergency continues, and our country is transformed ever more into a ticking time bomb.”

The interior ministers recognised Rome’s plight in a strongly worded communique at the end of the summit: “The situation in the Central Mediterranean and the resulting pressure on Italy is of great concern to all member states."

They committed to measures including a rescue coordination centre which would integrate efforts by European and NGO missions and the Libyan coastguard, and offer the latter more training and better equipment, moves hailed by Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti.

"There has been a recognition of the question raised by Italy," he said.

"Italy is not alone and will not have to act on its own," Estonian Interior Minister Andres Anvelt told reporters after the meeting which was one of the first events to take place under their holding the rotating presidency of the European Union.

There was also an admission that the activities of NGOs, which have been accused by some as acting as a ‘pull factor’ for refugees because they rescue migrants from coastal waters near to Libya and thus encouraged people smugglers to send off flimsier vessels, needed policing.

"We have no problem with NGOs," European Union Commissioner for Refugees Dimitris Avramopoulos said. "The idea is to better our working relationship using more coordinated efforts," a reference to a proposed code of conduct for the agencies.