June 29, 2017
Europe’s next refugee crisis
Europe’s refugee crisis is boiling over once again, this time in Italy. The Italian government has threatened to close all of its ports to ships with refugees unless the EU provides relief. The decision by the Italian interior ministry follows the arrival of 12,000 migrants in 48 hours on 22 ships. Italy’s ambassador to the EU, Maurizio Massari, is invoking a national security exception to defend the decision, which at this stage is only a threat. The EU’s internal affairs commissioner Dimitri Avramopolous said he wants to discuss the issue at the next internal affairs council. It is not clear from the coverage what Italy's exact demands are in order not to carry out its threat, but if it were carried out a major human catastrophe would be upon us in the Mediterranean.
Italy has been supporting a quota system to relocate refugees throughout the EU, but this is firmly rejected by countries such as Poland, Hungary, and several others. We don’t see Italy’s threat all of a sudden producing a quota system, which is the only way to alleviate the structural pressure on Italy. Corrriere reports on frantic diplomatic activity going on at all levels in Brussels, involving Italy's most senior EU officials: Federica Mogherini and EP president Antonio Tajani.
France has just taken 200 migrants at the Ligurian/French border, but this is clearly not enough to provide relief, as Italy has had to cope with 76,000 migrants that arrived since January. At the current rate of arrivals, and in particular if the peak of 12,000 in just three days continues to become a wider trend, Italy is unable to cope with the incoming refugee streams. The Italian governments puts the country’s capacity at 200,000 refugees per year.
Corriere della Sera writes that technical details of a decree to issue a ban on refugees are being drafted right now, ready for deployment when it becomes clear that there is no sufficient support from the EU. Since the rescue operations do not take place in Italian waters, Italy is under no obligation under international law to take the refugees in. Italy will, however, continue to participate in rescue missions. President Sergio Mattarella is also said to support the decision, calling the refugee situation in Italy unsustainable.
A recently signed bilateral agreement with Libya failed to alleviate the situation, so that Italy is now reverting to what it thinks is the last tool it has at its disposal.