Is our government preparing for a tough summer where illegal immigration is concerned?
The Daily Telegraph has another article about Giorgia Meloni and the Italian Government in the space of a week. This time, it is about illegal immigration and how it will hit Italy this summer. More dangerous crossings are expected to take place this summer, but immigration will not only be from Libya but also from Tunisia. One needs to ask whether our Government is preparing to meet such an emergency which will affect our shores and if yes, how. In Italy, Meloni is already at work. Italian diplomacy is in full motion lobbying in Brussels. Meloni is telling her European partners that she is expecting an “invasion” and therefore is demanding cooperation. So what is our Government going to do faced by this apocalyptic prediction? How is our Foreign Affairs Ministry preparing for such an “invasion”? Is our Government fast asleep? Will it be acting, as has been the case in the past, only on the spur of the moment, when it is hit by a human tragedy next to our territorial waters? Time will tell. Whatever the case, Robert Abela’s Government is in again for a big test, and this one will be even more difficult to solve than the political challenges resulting from the Steward Health Care sentence.
Italy’s prime minister has warned that the country faces “an invasion” of migrants and refugees this summer after the number of arrivals so far in 2023 tripled compared with last year.
It comes ahead of a summit in Brussels next week at which European leaders will be told to find ways to deport more failed asylum seekersfrom the bloc, with just one-fifth currently returned to their home country.
The Italian government hopes the meeting will yield concrete assistance from other EU countries in dealing with the influx of people fleeing across the Mediterranean.
So far this year, more than 20,000 migrants and refugees have reached Italian shores – three times the number in the corresponding period last year.
“If Europe doesn’t get moving and continues to leave us on our own, this summer there will be an invasion,” Giorgia Meloni said this week.
“The numbers are striking and with the season of fine weather, the problem can only get worse.”
An MP from Ms Meloni’s hard-Right Brothers of Italy party warned this week that there are nearly 700,000 migrants in Libya waiting for the chance to cross the Mediterranean.
But the claim was dismissed by the International Organisation for Migration, which said that was the total figure of migrants working and living in Libya. That “is not the same as the number of people who are ready to leave”, Flavio Di Giacomo, the organisation’s spokesman, told The Telegraph.
He added: “Every couple of years there are headlines saying there are 500,000 or a million people ready to leave Libya. These are not credible figures.”
The Italian government alleged this week that Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group in Libya are using migration as a form of “hybrid warfare”, encouraging people to cross the Mediterranean to punish Italy for its support for Ukraine.
In fact, the biggest wave of migrants arriving in Italy is currently coming from Tunisia – making up 60 per cent of those who have successfully made the journey this year. In terms of nationality, the largest group is from Ivory Coast, followed by Guinea.
Possible factors behind the surge include unusually mild winter weather and the deteriorating situation in Tunisia, where Kais Saied, the country’s president, is overseeing repression of any opposition.
Last month, he also launched a racist attack on the country’s small population of around 20,000 sub-Saharan migrants, accusing them of being part of a conspiracy to change the demographic makeup of the country.
“If Tunisia explodes, a thousand people a day will start arriving,” Antonio Tajani, the Italian foreign minister, was quoted as saying by the Italian media this week.
But Italy is not alone in raising the alarm about the EU’s unsustainable approach to migrationafter the bloc’s border agency Frontex reported 330,000 irregular crossings last year – the highest since 2016.
In a joint letter in February, the leaders of Malta, Denmark, Greece, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Austria and Slovakia said the EU’s “current asylum system is broken”.
“Irregular migration has once again become one of the most pressing issues in the EU,” they said.
“Without renewed and successful efforts … irregular migration to Europe can only be expected to continue and increase in the coming years.”
At their previous summit in Brussels last month, EU leaders talked a tough game but were unable to reach any significant agreements to tackle the issue.
Migration hardliners wanted the EU to start funding border fences, akin to Donald Trump’s wall. However, all they could agree on was new cash to pay for infrastructure such as cameras, watch towers and vehicles for Frontex.
Since those talks, almost 100 people – including at least 34 children – have drowned after their Italy-bound boats sank in the Mediterranean.
When the bloc’s prime ministers and heads of state reconvene for fresh talks next week, they will shift focus to the low numbers of illegal migrants being deported.
Frontex has been given at least €100 million (£88.5 million) this year to operate return flights, which are part of a wider push to use the agency to deport rejected asylum seekers.
“Last year, we had a return rate of only 21 per cent of those who are not eligible to stay,” Ylva Johansson, the EU’s home affairs commissioner, told reporters.
“When we fail to return people, this hampers our system and erodes trust.”
Many of those allowed to stay in the EU illegally have made tracks for Britain.
Those onward movements have left the Dutch and Belgian asylum systems at breaking point.
The Belgian crisis means as many as 2,000 illegal migrants have been left without shelter and are sleeping rough, according to the country’s asylum agency.
Dutch ministers have spent months frantically trying to fix the chronic overcrowding problem at their national refugee reception centre in Ter Apel.
A stripped-down cruise ship, with classrooms and medical facilities, was used to house at least 1,000 migrants, but it was not enough.
Nations take matters into their own hands
In the absence of a coordinated approach to deal with migration, many countries have taken measures into their own hands.
In February, the Italian parliament passed a law requiring non-governmental organisation search and rescue ships to sail to a designated – rather than the closest – port and be prevented from looking for other migrant boats in distress. Ship captains face fines of up to £44,462 for failure to comply.
Greece, which has faced accusations of violent illegal pushbacks of migrants along its border with Turkey, is bolstering frontier protections amid an expected increase in attempted crossings after the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.
Denmark, which has an opt-out from EU asylum rules, is reported to be considering its own Rwanda-style deal for illegal migrants.
Once-liberal Sweden has dramatically toughened its migration and asylum laws since a new coalition government was formed in October last year, after the hard-Right Sweden Democrats made strong gains in elections.
Asylum seekers must now pay a fee for processing their claims and there is a network of “transit centres”, where migrants must stay for the entire processing of their asylum claim.
Migration has long been one of the most divisive issues among EU member states and has stymied efforts at reform of the bloc’s asylum and migration rules.
Nations such as Italy and Greece accuse other countries of not sharing the burden, while countries such as France suspect them of having waved migrants through to richer countries during the 2015 migrant crisis.
Hungary and Poland earned the wrath of Brussels for refusing to take their quota of relocated migrants from those worst-hit countries, further exacerbating the deep splits in the bloc over migration.
Budapest continues to rail against the EU for refusing to fund a controversial border fence on its frontier with non-EU Serbia.
Only around 20 per cent of the Schengen free travel zone’s external borders, some 1,250 miles, have been fenced off.