Italy-EU migration spat a case of deja vu

We are witnessing the same appalling injustice as in 2018, when the country’s former Interior Minister and today’s Transport Minister Matteo Salvini closed ports to ships carrying refugees while mocking the EU’s migration policy.
Representative image
Representative image

By BERND RIEGERT

Italy’s new government is doing precisely what it said it would: It has been barring ships carrying migrants rescued at sea from entering Italian ports. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has even been waxing lyrical about a naval blockade.

We are witnessing the same appalling injustice as in 2018, when the country’s former Interior Minister and today’s Transport Minister Matteo Salvini closed ports to ships carrying refugees while mocking the EU’s migration policy. Now, just as then, the remaining EU member states have been responding by turning a blind eye and making empty promises, all while invoking the ghost of European solidarity and “common solutions to common problems.”

Since 2015, the EU’s migration policy has buckled under the pressure –– and not only of right-wing nationalist governments –– to increasingly discourage potential asylum-seekers from entering the EU and seal its borders. The EU has yet to develop a coherent approach to distributing those who successfully entered the EU and sought asylum among their members states. Last year, this affected 540,000 individuals; that number is expected to rise this year. The European Commission has launched several failed attempts to design a binding system for absorbing migrant quotas. The most recent such agreement between several EU member states was reached last June and unravelled just this Thursday. France backed out, blaming Italy for reneging on its commitments to accept shipwrecked travellers.

In theory, this means the prior regulation stating that the first country of entry into the EU –– Italy, Greece, Spain, Croatia, Poland, Hungary, Malta or Cyprus –– remains responsible for processing migrants’ requests for asylum and proving accommodation. But this so-called Dublin Regulation doesn’t work in practice; it never really did. EU statistics show that of the 80,000 people entering Italy from the Mediterranean this year, only about half have sought asylum in Italy, while the rest have either disappeared or continued northward with the tacit permission of Italian authorities.

The same can be observed in Greece, along the Balkan route, and in Spain. It’s the only reasonable way to explain why Germany received more requests for asylum than other EU member states. Just like its southern neighbour Austria, Germany cannot be a first country of entry due to its geographical position. That’s why member states keep trying to push migrants back to the first country of entry, to avoid responsibility as per the Dublin agreement. But this is only marginally successful.

The Italian government has no reason to complain of being overwhelmed in order to serve it populist narratives. A simple glance at the statistics shows that other EU member states are accepting far more migrants than Italy. Going by absolute numbers, Germany, France and Spain have the highest quotas of migrants. Calculated per resident capita, Cyprus, Slovenia and Austria –– not Italy –– have processed the most asylum-seeking requests. Refusing rescue vessels entry into Italian ports or dragging out their processing has been exacerbating the suffering of the people trapped on board. It’s also produced harrowing images that are ideal for populist politicking. Just like four years ago.

In reality, most people do not reach Italy after being rescued at sea, but by traffickers heading towards the coasts of Sicily and Calabria. The true disgrace of the EU’s migration policy is that it hasn’t managed to make the dangerous passage across the Mediterranean obsolete. All attempts to establish camps in Libya, disembarkation centers in Europe, or asylum centers in northern Africa have failed, as have attempts to cooperate with countries of origin or undercut the financial gains for traffickers. On the contrary, it seems the numbers are rising.

This article was provided by Deutsche Welle

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