Brussels rejects Italy’s criticism of its management of migration after the tragedy in Calabria, where at least 62 migrants have lost their lives when the precarious fishing boat in which some 180 people were trying to reach European territory sank. The European Commission recalled this Monday that it has been urging Member States for more than two years to advance in the migration pact, which seeks a comprehensive solution to this issue. In addition, given the criticism of the rescue of shipwrecked migrants and the controversial position of the Government of Giorgia Meloni, which has prohibited multiple rescue operations, the European Executive has recalled that maritime rescue issues are the “competence” of the States, although At the same time, it has urged NGOs to coordinate their activities with the countries in which they operate.
“Immigration is a European challenge and it has to be faced jointly”, a spokeswoman for the Commission, Anitta Hipper, quoted the recent words of President Ursula von der Leyen on this issue that, just over two weeks ago, it brought together the European heads of state and government in Brussels without much progress being made on the matter. In this sense, Hipper recalled that since September 2020 the Migration and Asylum Pact proposed by the European Executive has been pending approval and that it constitutes a “sustainable and structured long-term solution” that provides “fast and unified” coordination responses.
The Italian President, Sergio Mattarella, has demanded that “the European Union finally assumes the specific responsibility of governing the migratory phenomenon in order to keep it away from human traffickers, committing itself directly to migratory policies, supporting cooperation for the development of countries from which young people are forced to leave for lack of prospects”.
Hipper recalled in this regard that the Commission launched last November an action plan for the Central Mediterranean with “operational solutions” to respond to emergencies while waiting to reach consensus on the framework agreement. Among these immediate measures, it is urged, among others, “reinforced cooperation” with the countries of origin or transit of migrants; to reinforce the border management capacities of countries such as Tunisia, Egypt or Libya; or to apply the voluntary solidarity mechanism whereby, last summer, 21 Member States or associates undertook to participate in the solidarity distribution of asylum seekers and bear the costs thereof. As the European Commission has recalled today, to date, only 255 migrants who have arrived in Italy have been relocated to other countries, when the figures number in the thousands.
The European Commission has stressed that matters of maritime rescue are, ultimately, a “competence” of each Member State. Brussels was forceful in the face of the penultimate migration crisis that occurred in Italian waters, when the Meloni government provoked a confrontation with the NGOs that charter rescue boats and even with the French government of Emmanuel Macron, by stopping, last November, the landing of migrants saved by several private boats. Back then, the Commission recalled the “moral duty” and “legal obligation” of countries to rescue migrants at sea. Something that it continues to maintain, although since then Brussels also acknowledges that “there is a lack of clarity” in the current scenario, and that it was not provided for in current international maritime law. In this sense, the Commission’s action plan proposes the promotion of discussions in the International Maritime Organization “on the need for a specific framework and guidelines for ships focused on search and rescue activities.”
After the new tragedy on the Calabrian coast, Brussels has recognized —always stressing that it is a national competence— that it is a “complex” issue and in which “the actors involved” do not always maintain the desirable “interaction”. In this sense, the spokesperson stressed that “it is important to ensure that NGOs also coordinate their activities with national authorities.” In view of the “complexity” of the issue, the Commission relaunched in January the European Contact Group on Maritime Search and Rescue, created at the end of 2020 and which has only met three times since then. However, the last one, on January 31, did so without the presence of any NGO.