Immigration

Spain “skeptical” over Italian call for help in battling migration crisis

Diplomatic sources say that any action must come under Brussels umbrella

Italy is asking its closest European partners – with Spain at the top of the list – for help dealing with the migrant crisis. The idea is for some of these vessels, which come mostly from Libya, to be taken to ports elsewhere in the union. At present, most of the rescued migrants end up on Italian shores.

Rescued migrants wait to disembark in Catania, Italy.
Rescued migrants wait to disembark in Catania, Italy.ORIETTA SCARDINO (EFE)

Spain has expressed solidarity with Italy’s plight, but warned that any solution to the problem must taken at the European Union level, not bilaterally.

After the EU signed a deal with Turkey in 2016, migrant and refugee flows to Greece dropped drastically. The central route has switched to Italy, which is currently dealing with 86% of migrant arrivals, compared with 9% for Greece and 4% for Spain.

Of the nearly 97,000 migrants who have arrived in the EU via the Mediterranean so far this year, 83,650 of them have landed in Italy, according to United Nations figures.

The Commission will support what I would call a heroic effort to handle this challenge. Italy will not be alone

EC President Jean-Claude Juncker

Europe lacks the mechanisms to handle these migrants. The refugee-sharing plan designed by Brussels two years ago only covers “textbook” refugees, meaning basically Syrians, Eritreans and Iraqis.

But most of these new arrivals hail from sub-Saharan Africa, and even though they are fleeing poverty and hardship in their countries, they do not fit the definition of asylum seeker. So Italy cannot include them in the EU program.

After rescuing 10,000 people in just three days, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni threatened not to let in any more ships from Libyan waters. This made EU institutions sit up and take notice.

But Spanish diplomatic sources are skeptical about Italy’s proposed solution.

“Sharing out the immigrants among southern countries is not the solution. We need a European response to an exceptional situation, like the EU did with the crisis of the refugees arriving in Greece,” said these sources.

Spanish diplomats also noted that Spain is already dealing with immigration from Morocco, Algeria and the Atlantic coast of Africa, even if the volume is much smaller.

Opening Spanish ports to these new migrants would force Spain to establish what the EU designates as hotspots (where migrants get classified and receive assistance). Most are undocumented, making repatriation very difficult.

These same sources cited an informal meeting of European justice and interior ministers scheduled for July 7 in Estonia, and an international conference called by Italy in Rome for July 6.

Meanwhile, the European Commission supports the idea of Mediterranean neighbors helping each other. “Italy and Greece cannot be left alone. The Commission will support what I would call a heroic effort to handle this challenge. Italy will not be alone,” said EC president Jean-Claude Juncker.

English version by Susana Urra.

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