The European Commission has proposed this Monday an “action plan for the central Mediterranean” to combat the irregular migratory flow through this route which, Brussels stresses, has increased by 50% since 2021 to exceed, so far this year, 90,000 migrants. The arrival of this initiative that seeks to stop the departure of migrants in their countries of origin, accelerate the stagnant distribution of asylum seekers in the EU and, also, review the legal framework in which rescue boats chartered by NGOs operate , it is no coincidence: this Friday, the Ministers of the Interior and Justice meet in Brussels in an extraordinary council convened after the hard fight between the French President, Emmanuel Macron, and the new Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, as a result of the decision of the far-right leader to deny the arrival of the ship at the port ocean viking with more than 200 rescued migrants on board.
The names of Macron and Meloni did not even cross the mouth of the Interior Commissioner, Ylva Johansson, when she displayed the 20 “operational measures” of a plan that is presented as a bridge until the Twenty-seven give their approval on Monday in Brussels. end to the New Migration and Asylum Pact launched in September 2020 and which has been stalled ever since. Brussels wants to avoid at all costs that this new proposal is understood as a concession to extreme positions such as that of the new Italian government. However, community sources acknowledge that the “action plan” seeks to “lower the political temperature”, which reached high levels in recent weeks, after Meloni referred to France the 234 migrants rescued by the ocean viking, the ship of the NGO SOS Mediterranée. Macron, accused by the French far-right opposition of having given in the pulse, responded by withdrawing from the agreement reached in June in Brussels on the distribution of refugees regarding the mandatory solidarity mechanism.
“The latest events confirm that this situation is not sustainable,” Johansson limited himself to saying regarding the Franco-Italian battle that promises to be only the first in a long series, with Italy determined to make immigration one of its battlefields. in the EU, whose rotating presidency will be assumed in January by Sweden, another country whose new government is said to be willing to toughen migration policies. The one from the central Mediterranean “continues to be a route with one of the highest numbers of irregular arrivals, but also one of the most dangerous. We have to increase our shared efforts”, urged the commissioner, according to which, the majority of those who arrive by this route do not qualify as refugees but are economic migrants.
The action plan is divided into three “pillars”. One of them stresses, although without great precision, the need to discuss together with the International Maritime Organization a “specific framework” and “guides” for ships such as the ocean viking. In the midst of a crisis with the new government in Rome for its attempt to block the entry into port of several rescue ships of different flags, Brussels reminded Meloni at the beginning of the month that Member States have a “moral duty” and a “legal obligation ” to rescue migrants at sea, regardless of the circumstances in which they got there. A position that has not changed, although there are, Johansson stresses, important nuances.
“Saving lives at sea is always the first obligation. But there are many challenges and the current situation with private ships operating at sea is a scenario in which there is a lack of clarity”, explained the commissioner, according to which the law of the sea did not provide for this situation when it was drawn up. Among others, the Commission calls for “greater cooperation between Member States, flag countries [de las embarcaciones], the coastal and other relevant actors”, although he acknowledges that he does not have “concrete proposals” since this matter is the responsibility of the States. Even so, community sources indicate, it is not the same to save migrants in the middle of the sea in an emergency situation than to patrol just at the edge of the international waters adjacent to the countries from which these boats leave, and there is room for discussion there. Johansson avoided commenting on the Italian demand for a “naval blockade” against countries of departure such as Libya, but he did stress the “great need” to “prevent” migrants from risking their lives by getting on a precarious boat.
The Commission also wants to reinforce the voluntary solidarity mechanism agreed in June and by which 21 Member or associated States committed to participate in this solidarity distribution of asylum seekers and to bear the costs. In this regard, Johansson recalled that, although the States made more than 8,000 offers to relocate migrants to their territories, to date there have only been a hundred transfers. “It is important to strengthen the implementation” of the plan and solve the “bottlenecks” that hinder relocations, he said.
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Finally, Brussels wants to curb migration in the countries of origin —most of them come, according to Johansson, from Bangladesh, Tunisia and Egypt— or of departure, especially Libya and Tunisia. The EU “will strengthen the capacities of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya to ensure better border and migration management,” says the proposal, which has yet to receive the go-ahead from the Twenty-seven. He also wants to “strengthen the fight against migrant smuggling and improve the return policy.” Europe needs migrants to cover some jobs, yes, Johansson said in this regard, but they have to arrive by regular means, not risking their lives at sea after paying high sums to the mafias.
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