Europe’s Flawed Thinking on Mediterranean Migration

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Series Details 05.09.17
Publication Date 05/09/2017
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The European Commission set out on 4 July 2017 a series of measures to be taken by the EU institutions and agencies, Italy and the other Member States, in response to increasing pressure from migrants along the Central Mediterranean Route.

The Action Plan comprised a set of five areas:

+ saving lives
+ fighting human trafficking in Libya
+ cooperating with partner countries
+ stepping up returns
+ EU solidarity.

The measures presented in this plan were the basis of discussions on immediate support for Italy that took place at the informal Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting on 6 July 2017 in Tallinn, Estonia.

Italy's Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on the 27 July 2017 that a government plan to deploy vessels in Libyan territorial waters to help fight human trafficking would be presented to the Italian parliament the following week.

However, this was a sensitive topic, for the Libyan authorities to allow its territorial waters to be entered for this purpose by the navy of another country. The Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) said on the 28 July 2017 that it 'denies having asked Italy to send naval vessels into Libya's territorial waters... or fighter planes into Libyan airspace'.

News sources reported in August 2017 that the numbers of migrants attempting the dangerous sea journey from Libya to Italy had substantially been reduced in July 2017 from the equivalent figures in 2016. Some sources suggested this was a vindication of the Italian government strategy.

On the 17 August 2017 two United Nations human rights experts expressed serious concern over the new European Commission policy on Mediterranean Sea rescues, warning that more people would drown.

'The EU’s proposed new action plan, including a code of conduct for organisations operating rescue boats, threatens life and breaches international standards by condemning people to face further human rights violations in Libya', said the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales, and the Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer.

The Special Rapporteurs expressed concern that the European Commission was trying to move Europe’s borders to Libya. 'Libya simply cannot be regarded as a safe place to disembark and the EU policy is in denial of this fact', they said.

French President Emmanuel Macro hosted on 28 August 2017 a mini-summit comprising a number of African and European leaders to discuss ways of tackling migration flows heading to Europe from Africa and easing return procedures for migrants.The idea that enhanced border controls alone can halt flows of migrants across the Mediterranean is a dangerous fiction.

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Related Link(s)
ESO: Background information: Why the Delay on an EU Migration Policy? (Carnegie Europe: Strategic Europe, August 2017)
ESO: Information Guide: European Migration Challenges
ESO: ESO in Focus, August 2017: Informal Euro-African summit on migration, 28 August 2017
ESO: Background information: Commission rolls out migration action plan despite heavy criticism
ESO: Background information: Italy's navy to patrol with Libyan ships to curb human trafficking
ECFR: Commentary, 08.09.17: Still wanted: New approaches to migration for Europe
The Conversation, 27.06.18: Asylum processing centres in North Africa would merely mask the EU’s migration failings

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