World View: Italy Prepares for Possible Mediterranean Refugee Crisis This Summer

LAMPEDUSA, ITALY - JUNE 13: Illegal immigrants wait to be sent to a temporary holding centre for foreign nationals on June 13, 2005 in Lampedusa, Italy. Lampedusa Island, in the Mediterranean Sea between Malta and Tunisia, is one of the main gateways for illegal immigration from Africa into Europe. According …

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Italy prepares for possible Mediterranean refugee crisis this summer
  • Europeans blame China and ‘the freeway effect’ for the migrant crisis

Italy prepares for possible Mediterranean refugee crisis this summer

Migrants packed into an overcrowded dinghy by human traffickers (EPA)
Migrants packed into an overcrowded dinghy by human traffickers (EPA)

The European Union is working on an emergency plan in case a “serious crisis” develops this summer, which would be the situation is 200,000 or more refugees cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy.

In 2016, a record 181,000 migrants crossed from North Africa to Italy via the Mediterranean Sea. From January 1 to April 23 of this year, 36,851 migrants were recorded as crossing – a 45-percent increase over the same period last year. Even more concerning is the fact that summer has not even arrived, and when it does, a huge surge of migrants is expected. The concerns are that total for the year may be close to 300,000.

According to the Dublin Agreement that defines the principles of the European Union, member states are expected to show “solidarity” in managing the refugee problem, so that the entire burden does not fall on Italy. However, there is little agreement on what the term “solidarity” means. The current requirements are that refugees should be distributed to all 28 member states. The target last year for relocation was 160,000 asylum seekers, but because several member states object to having any asylum seekers at all relocated to their countries, only about 15,000 people have been distributed so far in the last two years.

One proposed solution is that cash will be used to encourage countries to meet their quotas. The proposal is that each country will be paid €60,000 for every asylum seeker they take in above their assigned quota, and those not meeting their quotas would be charged the same amount.

On Thursday, the European Commission issued a press release proposing “a sustainable and fair Common European Asylum System.” According to Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs:

If the current refugee crisis has shown one thing, it is that the status quo of our Common European Asylum System is not an option. The time has come for a reformed and more equitable system, based on common rules and a fairer sharing of responsibility. With the proposed reform of the Dublin system, [and the creation of a] true European Agency for Asylum, today we are taking a major step in the right direction and putting in place the European-level structures and tools necessary for a future-proof comprehensive system. We will now put all our efforts into working side-by-side with the European Parliament and Member States. We must turn these proposals into reality as swiftly as possible.

If the history of the past two years shows anything, it’s that no current proposal has any chance of working. If move than 200,000 migrants from Libya reach the shores of Italy this year, it truly will be a crisis. Der Spiegel and EU Observer (27-Mar) and European Commission and Malta Today

Europeans blame China and ‘the freeway effect’ for the migrant crisis

Decades ago, when America was first building a national highway system, people talked about “the freeway effect.” If some particular auto route was always jammed with heavy traffic, then a limited access superhighway (also called a “freeway”) would be built to replace it. However, with the availability of the new freeway, a lot more people would start driving, and so pretty soon the traffic would be just as bad as ever. That was “the freeway effect.”

The same kind of thing is happening in the Mediterranean. After some well-publicized drowning of hundreds of migrants in capsized boats, the European Union has made enormous efforts rescue migrants who might otherwise drown. Furthermore, the EU’s Frontex organization has been joined by dozens of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that are also rescuing migrants crossing the Mediterranean. As greater efforts have been made, more migrants have been encouraged to risk making the trip, contributing to the worsening of the migrant crisis, and creating a “taxi service to Europe.”

A scandal is brewing over the NGOs. Carmelo Zuccaro, an Italian prosecutor is claiming to have evidence that some of the NGOs are colluding with the human traffickers who send the migrants out on flimsy boats to be rescued, with the suggestion that some of the NGOs are encouraging the increase in migrant traffic in order to receive more funding.

The human traffickers have become increasingly unscrupulous in taking advantage of the massive rescue efforts. For example, they have been packing up to 170 people onto inflatable rubber dinghies that can only safely transport 15 people. The engines have only enough fuel to make it out of Libyan waters, and the smugglers have been relying on the rescue efforts by Frontex and the NGOs to save the migrants from drowning. However, over 1,000 migrants have already lost their lives this year alone in the Mediterranean.

Some EU officials are blaming China for the problem.

In a story about migrants early last year, I reported that human traffickers were importing massive numbers of rubber dinghies manufactured in China, transshipped through Malta.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs, whom we quoted earlier, is visiting China this week, and made this statement:

The rubber boats used by the smuggler networks in the Mediterranean are fabricated somewhere in China, they are exported to the countries in Asia and they are used by them. So I requested the support and cooperation from the Chinese authorities in order to track down this business and dismantle it, because what they produce is not serving the common good of the country. It is a very dangerous tool in the hands of ruthless smugglers.

There is no word on whether the Chinese government is going to help out Europe by shutting down its rubber dinghy business. Reuters and New Arab (23-Apr) and Reuters

Related Articles

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, European Union, Italy, Libya, North Africa, Dublin Agreement, Dimitris Avramopoulos, Carmelo Zuccaro, China
Permanent web link to this article
Receive daily World View columns by e-mail


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.