Mediterranean countries push for EU solidarity on migration

Less than a week after a deadly migrant shipwreck off Italy, five member states said their northern neighbors are not accepting asylum-seekers under a voluntary relocation initiative

EU migration
Ministers from Sweden, Spain, Malta, Italy, Greece and Cyprus hold a press conference at the MED 5 conference held in Valletta, Malta, on Saturday, March 4, 2023.Rene Rossignaud (AP)

Less than a week after a deadly migrant shipwreck off Italy, five European Union countries on the Mediterranean Sea pushed back Saturday against their northern neighbors for not accepting asylum-seekers under a voluntary relocation initiative.

The ministers responsible for migration policy in Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain met in Malta’s capital, Valletta, ahead of an EU ministerial meeting in Brussels next week on migration. The countries started working together as the MED 5 in 2021 to confront the challenges of illegal migration.

Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi told reporters that just 1% of the migrants who arrived in those front-line nations along the EU’s southern border last year were taken in by other EU members under a voluntary relocation program.

“We cannot continue to talk about the need to impose more responsibility on front-line member states, if there is not an equally prescriptive and mandatory solidarity mechanism toward the countries of first reception,’’ Mitarachi said.

Spain’s interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska Gomez, said the current process is “too slow, too selective, with too few results and too little predictability.” He pledged to come up with a more effective mechanism when Spain holds the EU’s rotating presidency in the second half of 2023.

The ministers also emphasized the need to work with the countries where many migrants are originally from and travel through. Such measures could include giving financial aid to countries of origin or transit to stem the flows to Europe, Malta’s home affairs minister, Byron Camillieri, said.

The officials further argued for providing more resources to EU border agency Frontex and for stepping up the pace of returning people who do not qualify for asylum.

“For the credibility of the asylum system, it is critical that we distinguish between those that are entitled to international protection according to the law, and those who are not,’’ Mitarachi said. “And those who are not should be returned with safety and dignity to the country of origin.

According to the UN refugee agency, some 160,100 migrants arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean Sea last year, 30% more than in 2021. Thousands of people are believed to have died trying to cross the sea to Europe in recent years.

At least 69 migrants died after a wooden boat that set out from Turkey crashed on a shoal off the southern Italian coast, in Calabria, early last Sunday.

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