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Migrants arrive on a rescue ship
Image: Imago

Italy's Conte wants EU 'crisis unit' for migrants

July 19, 2018

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte wants a new EU agency to oversee the distribution of migrants picked up at sea. Last weekend, he struck an ad-hoc deal with six EU states to take more arrivals from Africa.


Italy on Thursday called on the European Commission to set up a "crisis unit" to deal with the hundreds of migrants being picked up each week in the Mediterranean Sea.

The call came days after Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte personally phoned the leaders of several other EU states, urging them to help process some of the migrants picked up from a stricken vessel off the Italian coast on Saturday.

"What happened ... should become the norm, no longer dependent on us phoning our partners, but managed by a crisis cabinet or committee under the aegis of the European Commission," Conte told the Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano.

Read more: Libyan coast guard abandoned migrants to die in Mediterranean, says rescue charity

Idea pitched to Brussels

Conte said that he had written to the Commission to outline the idea, which he said would help better manage the migrant sea landings.

Alongside the interview, Il Fatto published extracts of the letter, addressed to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk.

"We should create as soon as possible a 'crisis unit' tasked with coordinating shared and complementary actions by the member states," it said. The unit should in particular help identify "the port of disembarkation for migrants and the countries prepared to host the rescued persons."

Italy's new populist government, which took office last month, has taken a hard-line stance against sea migrant landings, after more than 650,000 migrants reached Italian shores over the past four years.

Although the number has fallen sharply over the past year, partly due to an Italian-EU deal with Libya to halt the exodus from its shores, the Rome government argues that it is still bearing an unfair burden within the EU for dealing with asylum seekers.

Conte only agreed to allow the latest batch of 450 migrants — rescued off the Italian island of Linosa — to disembark in Sicily, after Germany, France, Malta, Spain, Portugal and Ireland agreed to take in many of the newcomers.

The ad-hoc deal was welcomed by Brussels and the United Nations, but some EU states, such as Hungary and the Czech Republic, refused to take part, as part of an ongoing dispute with Brussels over migrant distribution.

Tougher policies

Italy's interior minister has already shut the country's ports to humanitarian rescue ships, and vowed to block vessels from the EU's border agency, Frontex, which is also patrolling the Mediterranean.

Read more: Will Italy's refugee stance bring down the EU?

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Conte (pictured with German Chancellor Angela Merkel) has hailed his ad-hoc migrant sharing agreementImage: Reuters/H. Hanschke

As Rome's pressure mounted, EU leaders agreed, late last month, to coordinate better over migrant arrivals, and to set up reception centers in North African countries and non-EU states within Europe to process asylum applications.

The European Commission on Thursday was non-committal towards Conte's plan: 

"The Commission is working towards an interim mechanism that can be put in place rapidly to coordinate on disembarkations of boats arriving over the summer, before a fully fledged system can be established in the context of the Common European Asylum system reforms," the statement said.

The asylum reforms are aimed at ensuring asylum-seekers are treated similarly, and reducing the movement of awaiting applicants to other EU states.

Separately on Thursday, the Commission said it had decided to refer Hungary to the European Court of Justicefor failing to respect EU immigration and asylum rules.

mm/ng (dpa, Reuters)

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