‘EU quota system only solution to deal with migrant crisis’ - former Italian FM

Migrants at the Sicilian harbour of Pozzallo (Reuters / Antonio Parrinello)
As thousands of desperate migrants reach the shores of Sicily, the EU member states must accept their share of the influx, says Franco Frattini, former Foreign Minister, President of the Italian UN Association.

The European Union's plan to impose refugee quotas on its 28 member states risks falling apart after France joined other major countries in opposing the move. The plan has the support of Germany and other countries, including Italy, which says it cannot be left alone to handle the problem.

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RT:It appears that some major EU countries are unwilling to share responsibility on accepting refugees. Is Italy now left to deal with the problem on its own?

Franco Frattini: Unfortunately we are in a situation where a number of the member states, including France and Spain, are changing their position concerning the quotas, the burden sharing principle. Italy cannot accept to be left alone in that situation where massive migrants and refugees flows are reaching the shores of Sicily. We want that the decision of the European Council - the level of the heads of government and heads of state - respected. At that meeting two weeks ago the leaders of Europe decided to accept the principle of a distribution of the migrants and refugees of all 28 member states. We know that there are some doubts but these doubts cannot and should not lead to changing the position which has already been taken.

Migrants sit on the deck of the NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) ship Phoenix after arriving at the port of Pozzallo in Sicily in this handout photo provided by MOAS (Reuters / Darrin Zammit Lupi)

Next month the ministers of the interior will meet again and I very much hope they will decide to confirm the principle of migrants and refugees quotas. Otherwise Italy will have to denounce before the European Parliament, for example, that the leaders of the EU member states are thinking about their political national interest instead of European solidarity and this will be real damage to the credibility of the EU.

RT:Do you think the EU will come up with another way to sort out the migrant crisis?

FF: It is very difficult to find something else. First of all we need to strengthen the naval mission... But as you know perfectly, if a number of refugees or migrants are rescued on the high seas by a French or a German vessel they are brought to Italy; they are not brought to Paris or Berlin. This is the point that has to be solved. Once they come to Italy what is the next step? I don’t see other solutions but the quota system and the distribution in the spirit of solidarity. Otherwise there will be something else which wouldn’t be satisfactory for Italy.

RT:This year's influx of immigrants from North Africa must be putting a strain on Italy, how is it coping so far?

FF: Italy has been bearing a very heavy burden because of the camps to treat all these refugees and migrants with decent living conditions, and this has a cost which is on the shoulders of the Italian budget. We also consider that in some cases these migrants or those who made an application for the refugee status can commit some crimes, maybe some petty crimes. Unfortunately, we found out yesterday that one of those Tunisian suspects responsible for the terrorist attack on the museum in Tunisia was arrested in Milan, Italy. So unfortunately there is the other potential risk that some of the Daesh (IS) terrorists are infiltrated within the desperate migrant boats. There are many situations affecting Italy, but first of all Italy is very proud because it’s been saving thousands of human lives by rescuing people in need in the Mediterranean. This is our moral duty – saving human lives. But with that said – Italy cannot be left alone.

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RT:EU countries, however, support the part of the plan about destroying smuggling boats, why is military action more appealing?

FF: When we decide to establish a military naval mission which has been decided and has been established and Italy will be the leading country in that military mission. The aim of that mission is to counter traffickers in human beings, including capturing and destroying the boats that the traffickers are using for bringing migrants and refugees to Italy.

To do that we need, first of all, a green light from the Security Council that has to adopt a resolution and I strongly hope that, for example, Russia will support the adoption of a Security Council resolution. But we also need to have a green light, even more to have a request of cooperation with the government of Libya, because otherwise it would be considered an act of war invading the territorial waters of Libya. It cannot be done except if there is an agreement with the government of Libya. We are trying to get the agreement of the government, we are trying to get a green light of the UN and the Security Council and we hope to succeed. After that the European military mission will be in operation.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.