Migration: France calls on Italy to respect “the law of the sea”

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Migration: France calls on Italy to respect
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Tensions between Paris and Rome around the Ocean Viking were at the heart of an extraordinary meeting of European interior ministers, even if some of them are more worried about the increase in arrivals of migrants by road of the Balkans.

The Franco-Italian crisis has revived the very sensitive debate on solidarity between EU countries on migration, while a reform presented two years ago by the European Commission is stalling, and irregular entries at borders outside the Union are up sharply (280,000 over the first ten months of the year, +77%).

Temporary European Solidarity Mechanism

The meeting was convened at the request of Paris, which accepted on an “exceptional basis”, on November 11, the disembarkation of the 234 migrants from the Ocean Viking, after the refusal of the far-right Italian government of Giorgia Meloni to accommodate this humanitarian ship which has long been stranded off the Italian coast.

In response to the attitude deemed “unacceptable” by Rome, Gérald Darmanin immediately announced that he was suspending the planned reception in France of 3,500 asylum seekers in Italy. A reaction denounced as “unjustified” by Giorgia Meloni, who recalled that her country had welcomed nearly 90,000 migrants this year.

These “relocations” were planned as part of a temporary European solidarity mechanism approved in June, which France itself had initiated during its six-monthly presidency of the Council of the EU.

“If Italy does not take the boats, does not accept the law of the sea and (the principle of) the safest port, there is no reason for the country ensuring the relocations to be the same country which receives the boats or who welcomes migrants directly from Africa or Asia”, insisted Gérald Darmanin, arriving at the meeting in Brussels.

Only a hundred relocations have taken place

A dozen countries had pledged to take in some 8,000 asylum seekers over a year, with France and Germany each taking 3,500. So far, however, only around 100 relocations have taken place. .

In an attempt to relaunch this mechanism, based on the voluntary participation of States, the Commission presented an action plan on the central Mediterranean on Monday.

“Our wish is to resume, of course, this mechanism since it is the only one which makes it possible to distribute the difficulties throughout Europe, and to force the countries of first entry, such as Italy, to put in place the borders that we need, and the registration of all foreigners arriving in the European area. For the moment, this is not the case, ”said Gérald Darmanin again.

Strengthen cooperation with southern Mediterranean countries

The minister also stressed that “the countries of the southern Mediterranean must also open their ports” to migrant rescue ships “which cross in their territorial waters”.

The action plan aims, in particular, to strengthen cooperation with countries such as Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, to prevent departures and increase the return of irregular migrants.

This plan aims to “promote discussions within the International Maritime Organization” (IMO) on “guidelines for boats carrying out rescue operations at sea”.

Italy, like Greece, Malta and Cyprus, recently pointed the finger at humanitarian organizations whose “private vessels act in complete autonomy from the competent state authorities”, accusing them of encouraging migration.

For a “compulsory” solution

The High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, for his part, recalled that “nearly 2,000 people had died or were missing” in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year, stressing “the vital importance of rescue at sea by all actors.

But some of the Member States, including the Czech Republic which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, are focused on another migratory route: that of the Balkans, the source of nearly 130,000 irregular entries into the Union since beginning of the year, according to the Frontex agency, an increase of 168%.

Greek Interior Minister Notis Mitarachi, for his part, complained that Turkey is not respecting a 2016 migration agreement providing in particular for it to take back migrants who are not entitled to asylum. He also felt that the voluntary solidarity mechanism was “not sufficient”, calling for a “compulsory” solution.

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