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Italy Threatens to Block Ships Carrying Migrants

Italian officials say their government has told the European Commission in Brussels it is considering stopping ships that are not Italian-registered from disembarking at its ports migrants who were rescued while trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya.

The dramatic move comes after nearly 11,000 asylum-seekers and economic migrants, mainly from African nations, arrived on Italian shores in a four-day period from war-wracked Libya. In a letter to the commission, Italy's ambassador to the EU, Maurizio Massari, said the situation has become unsustainable.

In a meeting Wednesday, Massari informed Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU's commissioner for migration, that his government is now considering denying landing rights to any ships that aren't flying the Italian flag or are not part of the EU interdiction and rescue mission in the Mediterranean.

Libya as migrants' gateway to Europe

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has accused fellow EU nations of looking the other way, and not doing enough to assist Italy with the surge in migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Libya has become the main gateway to Europe for migrants and refugees from across sub-Saharan Africa, and also from the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Syria and Bangladesh.

Many are fleeing war and persecution, but most who are using Libya are seeking to escape poverty. Italy has become the main point of arrival for all of those rescued off the coast of Libya. Stranded refugees often are picked up by boats operated or funded by private charities and non-government organizations.

An intense debate has erupted in Italy about whether ships operated by mainly international NGOs have effectively been in league with the people-smugglers, and thus inadvertently enabling the trade to continue

Nearly 11,000 arrivals in four days

There has been a dramatic rise, partly thanks to good weather, in the number of migrants attempting the short but perilous Mediterranean crossing. In the four-day period through Tuesday (June 24-27), 8,863 migrants landed in Italy, including more than 5,000 on Monday alone, according to the International Office for Migration. Another 2,000 landed on Tuesday.

In the first five months of this year, 60,228 migrants arrived in Italy by boat. The IOM reported that 1,562 died at sea. At the current rate, and with months of good sailing weather ahead, the number of migrants is on track to exceed the 200,000 who landed in Italy in 2016.

Around 15 percent of those arriving this year are Nigerian. Twelve percent are Bangladeshi; Guineans account for 10 percent and nine percent are Ivorians.

Other EU nations have closed their borders to migrants, hoping to block them from moving north. Poland and Hungary have refused to host some asylum seekers to help ease the burden on Italy and Greece, another front line country. Greece has seen a huge decline in asylum-seeking numbers since the EU concluded a deal with Turkey to curb refugees and migrants using Turkish territory to head to Europe.

The surge in migrants this week prompted Italy's interior minister, Marco Minniti, to cancel a trip to Washington to address the growing humanitarian crisis, which is quickly morphing into a political one for the country's left-leaning coalition government. In municipal elections this month the coalition lost ground to center-right parties such as Matteo Salvini's Northern League, which has called for a stop to the invasion.

Domestic opposition growing

Italy's right-wing Forza Italia party has campaigned for the denial of landing rights to ships carrying migrants. And even the maverick radical Five Star Movement is moving to a more anti-immigrant position, calling for a halt to any new migrants being lodged in Rome.

Source: Voice of America