In the first half of 2017, about 85,000 people landed on Italy’s shores, compared with 71,000 for the whole of 2016 https://t.co/F3A32ZSYlA
— POLITICO Europe (@POLITICOEurope) July 5, 2017
The number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean is up again. Italy now has to cope with 85.000 people landing on its shores in the first six months of 2017, up from 71.000 in the entire year 2016. In response, the European Commission has published an action plan, with the Commission’s First Vice President, Frans Timmermans, feeling the need to “lower expectations” by pointing out that the Commission is not:
“coming out with a silver bullet, that there’s one measure that’s going to solve all this. But it would already make a world of difference if member states would just do what they agreed before.“
What exactly Timmermans is referring to, is unclear. According to Politico his frustration was aimed at those Eastern European EU member states who have refused to accept refugees allocated under an EU relocation program. For Timmermans:
“the levels with which Italy is faced now means that everybody needs to do their part in this across Europe. This is solidarity that Italy deserves.“
But if relocation of migrants within Europe is what Timmermans sees as ‘making a world of difference’, the outlook is grim. Not only are EU-member states like Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Austria unlikely to agree to the scheme, having already made their objections crystal clear, strongarming them seems to have the opposite effect, and it is unclear whether Timmermans can really afford a confrontation. The political constellation in Eastern Europe is simply unfavourable. Which leaves the question of whether the EU’s relocation program is a solution to the problem in the first place.
Not only have the relocation and resettlement programs, including the 1:1 deal with Turkey, only succeeded in relocating around 22.500 migrants since September 2015 (figures from June 2017) it might be that those figures are overinflated as well. Reports are coming in, especially from the Baltic States, that the relocated migrants, unsatisfied with the circumstances in their new country, pack up and leave. One such family, settled in Lithuania in December 2015 lost its residency permit in March 2017 for being absent for 6 months.
Despite this, Reuters reports that Giedrius Sudikas, spokesman for the commission’s office in Lithuania, sees the relocation scheme as a success:
“If they move to another country, they cannot apply for work, they cannot reside there, they cannot receive benefits and if they are apprehended in another member state, they will have to be returned to the state of relocation. These are important safeguards.“
Though that might be true, it does defeat the purpose of the EU’s relocation program if migrants just up and leave.
Furthermore, relocation and resettlement of migrants does not stop the migration flow into Europe. While the EU plan does call for Lybia’s capabilities to protect her borders to be increased, this is an uphill struggle. The action plan also calls for Frontex to take migrants to other ports than those in Italy, essentially expanding the problem. This comes on top of criticism from some politicians in Italy that NGOs are encouraging refugees and are in contact with human traffickers. Five Star Movement MP Luigi di Maio describes the NGOs as a “sea taxi” service for migrants, with the government threatening to close its ports to them.
According to Politico one Italian official said Rome wants to avoid the creation of ‘humanitarian corridors’, run by NGOs, which it holds responsible for carrying out 60% of all rescues in the Mediterranean, and the consequent ferrying of those ‘rescued’ to Europe.
Responding to these facts is Eugenio Ambrosi, the regional director of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), who downplays the observations by both Luigi di Maio and a Captain of the Lybian Coast Guard, saying that he doesn’t think “there is any direct link between NGO activity and the number of arrivals.”
Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR’s special envoy for the central Mediterranean, claimed NGOs are:
“singled out because there is the perception from some that they are part of the problem because they attract people, that they navigate too close to the Libyan shore, that if they were not there the Libyan smugglers and traffickers would not put people on those boats. We don’t think that’s a credible narrative.“
Despite this, it is clear and reported that NGOs go closer and closer to the 12-mile zone of Lybia’s national waters, with migrants being picked up closer and closer to the shore. Meanwhile, Timmermans said in Strasbourg that Brussels needs to continue demonstrating leadership.