Calls for a political solution to sharing out the migrants arriving from the Mediterranean have been coming from almost all sides of the debate for some time. Now the EU Commissioner responsible for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, has proposed a new solution.
“Until the new rules governing the so-called Dublin Agreement come into force, EU Member States need to work together on a preliminary sharing mechanism for rescued migrants,” said the EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos to Germany’s Die Welt newspaper on Tuesday, July 9. “Migration should not just be the responsibility of Italy and Malta, just because they are located in the Mediterranean,” he continued.
Avramopoulos called for EU states to stop waiting for stand-offs like those with the Sea-Watch 3 before stepping up to take some of the migrants on board; he hopes states could create agreements about what to do with the people rescued, instead of responding to each individual situation as it occurs.
Die Welt reported that, 27,000 people destined for Spain, Malta, Italy, Greece and Cyprus crossed the Mediterranean in 2019. Recently, more and more private rescue ships have returned to patrol the Mediterranean. According to Die Welt, there are currently seven rescue ships in action, three of which are sailing under a German flag.
Meeting of EU interior ministers
On July 18, EU interior ministers are due to meet. Avramopoulos hopes that some agreements will be reached during this meeting. Regardless of this, he wants his new proposals to be added to the existing policies.
On June 24, Avramopoulos tweeted that all the joint efforts, from “better managing borders" to creating "strong partnerships with third countries," as well as "protecting migrants along the road and fighting root causes," had helped to reduce the number of asylum applications across the EU as a whole.
Stepping up resettlement
Avramopoulos added that resettlement needed to be seen as a valid option to enable those who needed protection a “legal way to reach Europe.” He said he had written to all of the EU’s foreign and home affairs ministers to ask them to start resettling refugees from Niger; so that those in danger in Libya who required protection could be more quickly evacuated. “We are running out of time,” he added, referring to the recent bomb attacks in Tripoli that killed at least 53 people.
A fairer way of ‘sharing’ migrants and asylum seekers was already proposed by the EU Commission in 2016. So far, however, EU member states have failed to agree on an implementation of that policy. In practice, according to the Dublin regulations, migrants should stay in the first EU state of arrival - that means Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain. These countries are shouldering a huge amount of the burden. Germany has been hoping that at least 20 states would step forward in the proposed sharing scheme, but, so far, only four to six countries have stepped up to the plate.
Internal politics on migration
When designing a migration policy, it is common practice that governments tend to favor policies that resonate well with their own voters. Since June 2018, when Italy’s Salvini-led, anti-migrant League party was voted in, Italy has hardened its stance towards letting in more migrants and significantly reduced the official arrival numbers. Around 3,000 have arrived this year, compared to 23,000 in 2018. Part of the Italian strategy is to refuse to accept any more arrivals in a bid to force the rest of the EU to take its share as well. This has resulted in numerous diplomatic tugs of war. This is what Commissioners like Avramopoulos wish to avoid in the future.
The French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that Berlin agreed with Avramopoulos that this issue needed urgent attention at the Helsinki meeting of interior ministers in mid-July. Stephan Mayer, from the CSU (Bavarian Conservative Party) and an under-secretary of state in the Interior Ministry, said it was important to make sure that no country shirked its responsibility. Fellow CSU member and Germany’s Development Minister Gerd Müller criticized the EU for having “stumbled from one emergency to another since the end of its own Mediterranean mission, Sophia.” The Sophia mission was reduced in March 2019 and continues only as extended air patrols. It is due to wind up completely in September 2019.
Müller said that more support was also needed for refugees and migrants still in Libya. Dominik Bartsch, the UNHCR representative in Germany, also challenged European governments to step up. He told Die Welt they should “activate all their political links with Libya in order to make sure the government there improved access for the international community in the camps." His aim, he said was "to free everyone held in a prison camp in Libya."