Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni has criticized optimistic politicians who speak of quick fixes to Europe’s migration crisis, arguing that the roots of the crisis are so deep, it will take at least a generation to clean up the mess.
“Those who speak today of easy solutions may have short-term media success, but I think that people are grown up and mature enough to understand that this is a phenomenon that will last a generation,” the 60-year-old politician said in a recent interview.
“It is an illusion to think that it can disappear. The migratory phenomenon exists and Europe will have to face it together. The only alternative is a ‘beggar-thy-neighbor’ solution, in which countries try to load the problem off on their neighbors,” he said.
Gentiloni’s words came after a one-month record of 218,394 migrants and refugees reached Europe by sea in October, nearly topping the total number of arrivals for all of 2014. Of these, Greece received the vast majority (210,265), while Italy took in 8,129, according to the UNHCR.
More than half of the migrants are Syrians, as droves continue to flee their homeland that still languishes under an ongoing civil war and persecution from the Islamic State. The second largest group are Afghans, who make up nearly 20% of the total migrants entering Europe. The UNHCR expects a total of as many as 700,000 migrants into Europe this year and just as many or even more in 2016.
Meanwhile, many of those attempting the passage do not succeed. At least 70 people have drowned trying to reach Greek islands after a number of shipwrecks in the past week, more than half of them children. Over the course of this year, 3,440 have drowned or been declared missing trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe
Gentiloni noted that the massive influx of refugees and economic migrants from the Middle East and Africa presents a challenge that Europe will have to contend with for many years in the future.
In September the EU finally agreed on a plan of migrant distribution that included the relocation of 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy into other EU countries as well as tougher repatriation policies against economic migrants. The execution of the plan has been remarkably slow, however, and so far fewer than 100 refugees have been transferred from Italy and none from Greece.
Gentiloni warned that passport-free movement within the Schengen area cannot have a future unless the rules restricting the movement of migrants across the EU—known as the Dublin regulations—are gradually lifted.
“We respect the rules. But the longer you wait to move beyond Dublin, the higher the risk of Schengen failing,” he said.
On November 10 and 11, the island nation of Malta will host an EU-Africa migration summit, aimed at addressing some of the root causes of irregular migration from Africa, including conflict, political and economic instability, human rights violations and poverty.
The European Commission is setting up an EU trust fund for African stability, and Gentiloni remarked that Europeans “will more than 2 billion euros on the table” in aid designed to combat poverty and other root causes of migration.
“Of course it will take a long time,” Gentiloni said. “The Malta conference is a step in a process that will last for years.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome