With its open doors immigration policy, Europe can expect “record levels” of new migrants in 2017, according to the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU).
“Come next spring, the number of people crossing over the Mediterranean will reach record levels,” said Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of Malta, the current Presidency of the Council of the EU. “The choice is trying to do something now, or meeting urgently in April, May… and try to do a deal then.”
Muscat’s ominous warning echoed that of former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who said last October that Italy could not survive another year of mass immigration like 2016.
“Either we block the influx by 2017 or Italy will not handle another year like the past year,” Renzi announced on national television.
“Right now we can manage it: winter is coming and sea conditions will worsen, but we have six months maximum,” Renzi said, insisting that urgent measures need to be taken to stop the migrants leaving their countries of origin.
More than 180,000 migrants succeeded in crossing the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa into Italy in 2016, while another 5,079 died or went missing during the journey.
The total number of migrants that reached Europe in 2016 ran to 363,348, with Italy receiving the largest share, followed closely by Greece.
Given recent data, the trend shows no signs of abating. Hundreds have already attempted the perilous sea crossing this month, despite freezing temperatures. More than 100 migrants went missing over the weekend after a boat sank off the coast of Libya.
The deal struck between the EU and Turkey last March to stem the flow of migrants along the so-called Balkan route substantially reduced the number of migrants into Greece. Turkey, however, still has not received the billions of euros it was promised or the visa-free travel in Europe for its citizens.
The characteristics of Europe’s immigrants have changed as well. Of the top ten countries of origin of Italian immigrants in 2016, all but one were from Africa, with Nigeria topping the list. They are not refugees from war, but job seekers looking for better economic opportunities.
Muscat reportedly wishes to enlarge on an agreement Italy is negotiating with Libya by sweetening the deal with EU funds and other support. Of the many difficulties with this plan, Libya is still in a state of political turmoil with no central authority to deal with.
“The reality of Libya right now is that there is no unified government controlling all parts of the country, and no end of groups willing to upend things if there is an advantage in it for them,” said Carlo Binda, an expert on Libya.
All seem to agree that Europe’s migrant crisis requires immediate action, which may involve unpopular decisions and political compromise.
“Things are getting complicated. I would rather face the music now,” Muscat said.
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