Hotly-debated issues surrounding migration have once again been rekindled in Italy, as the number of arrivals rises. Meanwhile, Rome has asked for more solidarity within Europe as dialogue with Libya and Tunisia on migrant management heats up.
Boats arrive uninterruptedly from Tunisia as soon as the seas are calm, the hotspot on the island of Lampedusa is once again on the verge of collapse and the entire migration management system is under pressure in southern Italy. All these isues are being hotly debated in the corridors of power.
Now the Italian Interior Minister is involving outside actors too, calling the EU and meeting with or talking to her coutnerparts in Tunisia and Libya. Both north African countries are being buffeted by political, social and economic crises at the moment which is making the situation worse.
As is the case every summer, the issue of migration management has become a prime focus in Italy, which is trying once again to make itself heard at the EU level, asking for greater support. In agreement with the prime minister's office, Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese on Wednesday, August 4, took action after the latest migrant boat landing from which 1,200 migrants were taken to the hotspot on Lampedusa, which only has a capacity of 250 people.
Transfers began during the day but concerns remain over the migrant reception system not being able to hold up under the pressure. Since the beginning of the year, 30,000 migrants have arrived in Italy.
Talks with Tunisia and Libya
Libya has never really regained stability since war broke out there in 2011. In recent weeks a political and economic crisis in Tunisia has worsened and contributed to an uptick in those leaving its shores in boats towards Europe.
In fact, over 7,300 of the 30,000 migrants that have arrived in Italy since the beginning of the year are from Tunisia. For this reason, Prime Minister Mario Draghi had a talk with Tunisian president Kais Said focusing on both the aid that Italy will continue to provide as well as the management of migration flows in general.
For her part, Interior Minister Lamorgese spoke to the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansonn and then flew to Tripoli to meet with national unity government prime minister Abdulhamid Dabaiba and Interior Minister Khaled Mazen.
The interior minister said that these meetings had been planned for some time with the aim of taking stock of technical issues under discussion with Libya. On the issue of preventing unregulated migration and human trafficking, Italy confirmed its desire to develop an interior ministry project to be implemented in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Libya's southern border.
At the same time, Italy will step up its financial pledges to promote rural development with a view towards stabilizing the Fezzan region, which continues to see a large amount of migration. Libyan prime minister Abdel Hamid Dbeibah underscored the "need to activate the Italian role in the immigration question" and said he hoped for "serious collaboration between the two ministers."
Talks with Johansson
To Johansonn, Lamorgese instead asked that an urgent meeting of the Home Affairs Council be called to deal with an eternal sticking-point: that Italy and other countries along the external borders of the EU should not be left to deal alone with migration flows.
The issue is especially timely in light of the commitments the EU is making on issues related to other external borders, such as that of Belarus.
EU sources say that the meeting might be held in mid-August. It would be a chance to bring up once again the issue of mandatory migrant redistribution, which is important to Italy. However, it is a point on which there is no agreement, as shown by the statement from one of the spokespeople of the EU executive in which the mandatory nature of migrant redistribution becomes voluntary.
The Italian interior ministry is also asking for an "immediate signal" to strengthen how they interact with countries of origin and transit, potentially enabling swifter repatriation if a migrant is not found to qualify for asylum.
Italy also helps that the EU can intervene on the issue of the NGO search and rescue ships. Many of which are sailing under the flags of fellow EU states. Italy hopes that a mechanism might be activated which would make states lending their flags more responsible for ensuring a safe landing for those migrants rescued, compatible with measures taken to protect against the spread of COVID-19. To this end, Italy has appealed to those countries concerned to open up their ports too for disembarkation and not leave it for them alone to shoulder the burden.