Inconvenient truths about Italy's migrant problem

There is a murky truth about the way NGOs have been working with people traffickers to help migrants get into Europe. That's not the story the mainstream media is telling you about Italy and migration

The Aquarius
Tim Hedges
On 20 June 2018 05:44

Immigration was never going to be an easy subject for the EU but it is now an imminent political disaster and worsening. The European response has been to kick the can down the road, as usual.

I recently heard the expression ‘kicking the can up the hill’ which is even more appropriate: it clatters back down on to you.

The Macron plan for the next summit had been to strengthen the Dublin Accords. These say that asylum seekers must apply in the first country they come to. Either President Macron is criminally out of touch with the people of the EU or he is an appalling hypocrite.

France has closed its borders with Italy, saying the Schengen Agreement is suspended. At least it is not completely blocked: anyone rich can get through to the Cote d’Azure. France doesn’t want migrants.

As the whole world knows, Matteo Salvini has prevented the arrival of the ship Aquarius, managed by a charity. Less publicity has been given to the fact that several ships of the Italian Coastguard have delivered stranded migrants to Italy in the last week and as I write more are on their way. That would not match the image the establishment is trying to give Salvini.

What the Vice-Premier is trying to do is stop the NGOs from doing this work, and for very good reasons. There has been plenty of evidence that they have been in touch with people traffickers, agreeing to meet just outside Libyan territorial waters. At the very least, the presence of several such ships cruising up and down the coast promotes people trafficking in tiny boats.

Given the views of his electorate, Salvini could not do nothing, like the rest of the EU. This is a limited and intelligent start.

For the record, maritime law says that shipwrecked people must be picked up and delivered to the nearest safe port. That was Malta, which refused them. Sometimes it is Tunis, but they are never dropped there. The Aquarius then asked to dock in Corsica. The local government said yes, Macron said no. That is why they are going to Spain.

Macron’s Foreign Department said Italy’s actions were ‘vomitable’. Many find the French attitude to migrants even more emetic. There are now rumours they have been forced to back down and take some off Spain.

Austria, given its landlocked status and its troops positioned on the border with Italy, does not get many of these people applying for asylum. None, in fact. Its youthful Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, however, is already in a panic and trying to organise a pact with Mr. Salvini and right-wing elements in Mrs. Merkel’s government, to keep migrants away.

Germany, Austria, Italy. The nicest thing I can say is that this is not a good look.

It would be different if these self-righteous individuals were prepared to fish the migrants out of the water and send them back to Africa but they are not, because that isn’t a good look either. It is easier to keep kicking the can and let the Italians take the strain, all the time sucking their teeth and saying there is nothing to be done.

I have written before: there is only one solution to this problem. The EU should have attacked this five years ago but still could. They need to set up centres in the countries of the southern Mediterranean where would be migrants can be fed and treated medically, where they would apply for visas, as with air travel, before they embark.

It would involve agreeing that no one would be allowed to enter Europe and apply for asylum there. It would have to be done at the centres. It would also require that those granted asylum were given residence in a European country. The Visegrad countries would not like it but could be persuaded if there were not many.

Don’t forget, these people are not, barring a handful, refugees. They are economic migrants, wanting, understandably, to lead better lives away from their homes.

There would be expense setting up the centres and persuading North African governments to allow it. There would be difficult scenes when the first few were sent back to apply in the right place. But it is only this which will give any kind of solution to the problem. And we haven’t even started.

Don’t hold your breath for a European migration strategy, but the can is now large, and will make a mess when it rolls down the hill on top of us again.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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