EU efforts to address Italy's migrant emergency a ‘massive failure’

EU efforts to address Italy's migrant emergency a ‘massive failure’
A greater sense of solidarity among all EU member states is needed because Italy, and to a certain extent Spain and Greece bear the main brunt because of their location, says Keith Best, former Vice Chair, European Council on Refugees & Exiles.

Italian mayors across Italy are taking action over the latest influx of migrants, saying the country's being overwhelmed.

Vincenzo Lionetto Civa, the mayor of Castell’Umberto, reportedly began a protest after being belatedly warned that 50 migrants were to be accommodated in an old hotel nearby. When he arrived to the site the migrants were already inside of the building.

Meanwhile, Brussels is allowing members to restrict sales of inflatable rafts and outboard motors to Libya in an effort to halt migrant smuggling across the Mediterranean.

RT:  What is the solution for this crisis, do you think?

Keith Best: Well, I think people have to remember the tragedy of migrating people, trying to escape to Europe has been going on for many years. Two years ago, first of all, there was the tragedy of 700 people drowning from a boat that capsized just 60 miles off the coast of Libya – that included 100 children, who perished as well. In just the first few months of 2015, Italy had 25,000 migrants coming from North Africa. The response of the EU on that occasion was to triple the annual budget for what is known as Triton, which is the border control for the Mediterranean, to €120 million. But clearly, that was insufficient because this has been going on for a very long time. I am afraid that is a massive failure of the EU as a whole to address this issue in a satisfactory way.

I have every sympathy for the people in Italy, the people in Sicily, who bear the main brunt of people escaping from North Africa to try to find freedom from persecution and from the countries that they’ve escaped from. I have every sympathy for the people who are receiving them. Also, one has to bear in mind the terrible tragedy of people who are escaping these issues – the areas of conflict. And of course, you can look at Libya and say to a certain extent the uncertainty that is going on in Libya today is as a result of the conflict on the fall of Colonel Gaddafi quite some time ago. So this is something that is a responsibility of the EU. They do need to take it seriously, and they do need to put more resources into it.

RT:  There have been different programs presented by the EU, which haven’t worked so far. Now the EU effectively tells Rome it’s on its own to solve it. What in your opinion are the chances of a more pan-European solution?

KB: You have to try everything, and if the program is not particularly working, then, of course, I am forced to agree that it should not be pursued. What is needed is a greater sense of solidarity among all EU member states, because, although Italy, to a certain extent Spain, and of course Greece bear the main brunt because of their geographical location, of migrants trying to come up into Europe from the south. This is an EU wide responsibility, and 500 million people living in the EU in the most sophisticated and wealthiest part of the world collectively ought to be able to deal with something like just one million migrants a year coming to them.

Of course not all those people are in genuine fear of persecution, some are economic migrants, some must be turned back, some must be sent back to their country of origin if they don’t come within the definition of being a true refugee. With that said, many of those people are genuine refugees, and they should be accommodated fairly throughout the whole of the EU, not just relying on the resources in those southern Mediterranean states like Italy, Greece, and Spain.

Manlio Di Stefano, 5 Stars Movement

"In 2016 we had been spending something like €5 billion, we as Italy, while the EU gave us €160,000 million. Even from the economic point of view, it is just on us. In terms of emergency and crisis, everything is on us. And it is due to the Triton agreement that was signed by our government with Mr. [Matteo] Renzi. An agreement saying that all the boats taking migrants on the Mediterranean Sea had to bring them to our coastal area, and we have to take care of them. This is connected directly with the Dublin Regulation [EU law on governing asylum seekers that first came into force on 1 September 1997 for Italy and 11 other member states] that was made and signed by our government," Di Stefano told RT.

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