Italy’s Interior Minister on Sunday launched a forceful appeal to other European countries to welcome rescue ships carrying migrants and refugees saved from a drowning death in the Mediterranean Sea.
“If the only ports refugees are taken to are Italian, something is not working. This is the heart of the question,” Marco Minniti told Italian newspaper Il Messaggero.
“I am a Europhile and I would be proud if even one vessel, instead of arriving in Italy, went to another European port. It would not resolve Italy’s problem but it would be an extraordinary signal,” he added.
Ahead of a meeting of Europe’s interior ministers next week, Italy’s leaders have stepped up their pleas for help in dealing with the growing number of migrants and refugees arriving on its shores.
Eighty-five percent of the total number of migrants and refugees entering Europe by sea this year arrived in Italy, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Thursday. More than 83,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in the country since the start of 2017 - 20 percent more than in the same period last year.
The majority of people making the journey across the Mediterranean in search of safety and economic opportunities in Europe set off from Libya, loaded by smugglers in overcrowded rubber dinghies or ramshackle wooden boats. Faced with a rising number of people attempting the crossing, as well as a rising number of people losing their lives in the dangerous waters, the Italian Coast Guard and several humanitarian organizations in recent months have stepped up search-and-rescue missions off the North African coast.
Nearly 9,000 people were pulled from rickety boats in the Mediterranean between June 24 and June 27, the IOM said. More than 11,500 people were rescued between June 28 and June 30. Migrants and refugees rescued in the operations are generally brought to Italian ports.
As the number of migrants and refugees arriving in the country have steadily gone up, opposition against the arrivals has intensified.
Some in Italy have blamed the rescue operations for constituting a pull factor for migrants and refugees, despite arguments by aid workers and researchers alike that the missions are a response to the crisis rather than the cause. Many have criticized other European countries’ lackluster response and have argued that the responsibility for handling the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants and refugees annually to the European Union should not largely fall on one single country in the block. Last week, Italy threatened to close its ports to some rescue boats in an effort to force other European countries to welcome some of them.
In addition to opening their ports, Minniti on Sunday urged European countries to do more to help stabilize the situation in Libya in an effort to combat smugglers and reduce the number of people attempting to make the crossing. He also recognized that as long as war and economic deprivation force people to seek a better future elsewhere, migrants and refugees will continue to seek refuge in Europe.
The European Commission on Thursday agreed that other European governments should do more and its president, Jean-Claude Juncker, vowed the next day that the union would discuss new measures to help the country cope, Reuters reports.
Minniti was set to meet with the interior ministers of France and Germany on Sunday evening to continue discussions on the issue. It will be on the agenda again during the meeting of European Union interior ministers in Tallinn, Estonia, next week.