Commission: ‘Urgent’ That Italy Reopen Ports, EU Share Migrants Across Bloc

An official wearing a protective suit gestures towards migrants as they sit on the deck of the Italian Coast Guard vessel "Diciotti" in the Sicilian port of Catania, on August 23, 2018, as they wait to disembark following a rescue operation at sea. - The Diciotti vessel rescued the migrants …
GIOVANNI ISOLINO/AFP/Getty

Reopening Italian ports to NGO boats has “become urgent” amid fighting in Libya, the European Commission has said, declaring a common EU asylum policy “essential” for sharing future migrants out across the bloc.

Paraskevi Michou, of the EU Commission’s Director-General for Migration and Home Affairs, told Italy that completing talks on a temporary landings agreement “has now become urgent” due to “the situation in Libya”, where a civil war is burgeoning.

In a letter to Italian Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi, Brussels said the development of a common EU asylum system “remains vital” for enabling future mass movements of people from the third world to be shared out between member states.

It is “now essential” that Italy put forward a “determined effort” to produce a conclusion to discussions in which a “critical mass” of EU nations agree to “enact [docking and migrant-sharing] agreements in the short term”, said the document, which was seen by news agency ANSA on Friday.

“We are working to support Italy and other member states, under the guidance of the Romanian Presidency, to move forward on this issue in the appropriate fora, continuing to recall the need for making concrete progress on the Common European Asylum System as a whole,” it continued.

Reform of the Dublin Regulation “remains a priority” along with developing a “solidarity mechanism” with which to distribute illegal immigrants who manage to make it to EU shores, the Commission said, adding that full cooperation of EU member states would be required, reports ANSA.

The letter comes just a fortnight after Libya’s internationally recognised premier, Fayez al-Sarraj, warned that 800,000 illegal immigrants — amongst whom he said are criminals and Islamist militants —  were ready to “invade” Europe in boats if fighting in the African nation continued to escalate.

Italy has seen a huge reduction in migrant sea arrival numbers — and a steep drop in the Mediterranean death toll — since populist Matteo Salvini took charge at the country’s Interior Ministry last year, when he launched a crackdown on the activities of NGO boats working to deliver immigrants from Libya.

The League party politician, who also serves as deputy prime minister, has resisted continuous calls from open borders-backing NGOs to reopen the ports, insisting that shutting down the trafficking trade and deterring people from making the dangerous journey is “the only way to save lives”.

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