EU migrant crisis: ‘We can’t have every member saying “not on my patch”’

A group of migrants is surrounded by Italian police during their evacuation from the Saint Ludovic border crossing on the Mediterranean Sea between Vintimille, Italy and Menton, France, June 16, 2015.  (Reuters/Eric Gaillard)
To stop the unfolding migrant tragedy, the EU has to process people before they get into Europe, to distinguish between economic migrants and those in need of protection, says Keith Best, former chief executive of Britain's Immigration Advisory Service.

RT:Italy has hit out at the EU's response to what's described as the worst migrant crisis since the Second World War.Rome told other members if they don't help out, it will take matters into its own hands. So according to Italy, the European Union is not doing enough to confront the migrant crisis. Does it have a point?

Keith Best: I haven’t had much sympathy with the Italians in the past because they’ve tended to shunt all asylum arrivals straight up through Italy by the shortest possible route sometimes giving them train tickets and then tipping them out of the north of Italy into other EU countries. But on this occasion, I think they have got a serious point. Out of [about] 100,000 arrivals up until early June of this year, 54,000 of those arrived in Italy, 48,000 incidentally went to Greece, fewer than a thousand went to Spain and only 91 went to Malta.

READ MORE: Italy threatens EU: 'Sort out migrant mess you caused or get hurt’

So there is a disproportional burden being shared by both Italy and Greece and …the only answer to this and that is we’ve got to start processing people before they get into Europe because that’s the only way you can determine the difference between an economic migrant and somebody who is in genuine need of protection. This is such a terrible mess and the tragedy is unfolding before our eyes every day. We can’t have every EU member state saying “not on my patch” - a kind of ‘nimbyism’ written large. We’ve got to have common solidarity on this. 3,500 people lost their lives at sea last year. We are only half through the year and already 2,000 people have lost their lives in the Mediterranean. This is a terrible dereliction of responsibility by the EU of what’s happening on its borders.

RT:What do you think about the idea of introducing quotas to share responsibility? Would that help?

KB: Ever since the beginning of the declaration in Tampere in 1999 and the evolution of what’s so-called a common European asylum system there have been desperate attempts to try to share the burden of asylum seekers, who disproportionally come to some countries much more than others. There does need to be a proper mechanism in place for that to take place. Now a quota system is one way of actually doing that. You look at the UK - anybody would think we are the first touch for asylum seekers. In terms of the number of asylum seeking applications we are sixth on the list. We are below even Hungary, so we really haven’t got a great deal to complain about in the UK. We get fewer than 25,000 applications for asylum every year in the UK. Germany takes four times that number, France has more than we do, and Sweden has more than we do.

READ MORE: ‘Worst crisis since WWII’: Amnesty lashes out at world leaders over 50mn refugees

RT:What measures can be taken right now?

KB: What should be done now - especially as the EU does hold some and the Western powers still do hold some sway in Libya –is to establish an EU post in Libya to process those people, very often who are terrible victims of unscrupulous smugglers paying up to 10,000 pounds sterling in order to be put on a leaky boat with no guarantee that they won’t drown in the process. These people have got to be sifted on the soil before they start getting into those boats and then to tell the economic migrants “Look you are only an economic migrant, you’ve got no chance and you will be deported if you arrive, but if you are a genuine asylum seeker, we will take you.”

RT:Some countries are tightening border controls with Italy, leaving it to deal alone with the migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Is tightening borders effective?

KB: It’s going to create a massive problem of further attempts of illegal immigration, and these people are very resourceful, the smugglers are very resourceful people. They will find ways of getting people across the border no doubt at the severe loss of life, and frankly the EU has got to ask itself a question: “Do we want to have a system where we know consciously that this is going to result in enormous loss of life? Or do we want to have a system which is humanitarian and fair but also fair to the population of Europe not saying we are going to take everybody?”


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