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From Austrian Maneuvre to Italian Bluff

Toward the end of June, the Italian ambassador to EU was assigned to bring the issue formally with the Commission to get permission for changes in the EU Asylum system. The proposal includes to prohibit boats that have not Italian bandieras to land in Calabria and Sicily, received over 70,000 migrants by sea.

Italian borders of Austria
Tyrol border between Austria and Italy. (Jan Hetfleisch/EPA)

Meanwhile, Italy’s northern neighbors insisted on closing their borders to keep migrant waves away. On July 3, Austrian Defence Minister stated that Austria may close the borders with Italy and send troops to prevent illegal crossing. Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz talked similarly with stressing measures at the Brenner border pass through the Alps between two countries. The military measures of Austria raised again the debate on burdern sharing among the Member States. The Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti mentioned the move of Austrian troops as “an unjustified and unprecedented initiative would impact security cooperation”.



In those days, Minniti sent a letter to Migration Commissioner Avramopoulos and the Estonian Presidency, stated that high arrivals caused an “unsustainable situation”, which might trigger the country to cancel permission to dock non-Italian search and rescue vessels in its ports.


Increasing Solidarity (!)

Two days after the meetings with other leaders, an Action Plan was published by the Commission on July 4. The gaudy and ambiguous plan was full of usual things like “increasing solidarity”, “reducing pressure”, and “supporting Italy”. These keywords would be seen in almost all Commission materials published online. Let’s check the statistics out: Although 34,953 commitments have been legally foreseen in the Council Decisions, as of July 3, only 7,390 persons are relocated from Italy.However, the Commission set the relocation quota as 160,000. So, the statements of President Juncker seem quite ironic: “the urgency of the situation now requires us to seriously accelerate our collective work and not leave Italy on its own.”

One of the problems in relocation, the program is largely consisted of Eritrea and Syria nationals. So Italy demands it should be expanded to cover other citizens like Nigerians, that constitutes majority of asylum applicants

In order to reduce the sea arrivals, Libya, as a very popular hub, has central importance. Previously, both the Commission and the States made contacts with the UN-backed Libyan government to support its efforts to combat with irregular migration. Besides, new Plan involved in “enhancing the capacity of the Libyan authorities” through a €46 million fund. Also, the Commission “steps up funding for migration management in Italy with an additional €35 million ready to be mobilized immediately”


Leaving All Charges to a Country

Despite of all pledges of support, the situation in Italy is getting worse every year. Since 2012, every year the Mediterranean country received more and more asylum applications. In 2016, 122,960 asylum applications made, composes 9.5% of the whole EU. It means 2023 application per million inhabitants. 54,470 applications have been rejected at first instance. 13,823 of them comes from Nigerian nationals, the group constitutes the largest proportion of applications to Italy. Despite of the very high rate of rejection for Nigeria, only 120 of them was accounted as forced return in 2016. It means Italy has not a sufficient mechanism for forced returns. This means thousands of people wait for a long time in the country for second and higher instances. It is an unbearable burden for a country received nearly 85,000 sea arrivals in 2017 so far.

All in all, both relocation and returnings are the essential problems of Italy has faced in the crisis, that jeopardize European politics as well as security. If EU Members maintain such reluctant attitudes upon the refugee crisis needed to be combatted altogether, the danger will turn to a threat for EU’s future.  It’s because the migration crisis have also wider dimensions like the rise of far right. Even political leaders who placed in center would coming right sphere of the spectrum in order to consolidate the supporting. The former Italian PM, the leader of Democratic Party that fared badly in recent local elections, stated that “we do not have the moral duty to welcome into Italy people who are worse off than ourselves.” This is just one example shows how the rise of far right capitalized on the rise of immigration affect negatively other political figures. So, the intended political and economic measures will be taken by European institutions are decisive not only for border security or something like that but also for momentum of the European politics.   


Featured Photo: Flickr / davekellam