Wednesday 21 March 2018

Camps urged to stem migrant flow

Rescued migrants disembark from an Italian navy vessel in the harbour of Augusta, Sicily (AP)
Rescued migrants disembark from an Italian navy vessel in the harbour of Augusta, Sicily (AP)
Migrants wait to disembark in the Sicilian harbour of Pozzallo, Italy. (AP)

Italy has pressed the European Union to devise plans to stop the tide of migrants on smugglers' boats in the Mediterranean.

Italian defence minister Roberta Pinotti said refugee camps should be set up in countries bordering Libya and human traffickers must be targeted with military intervention.

"We know where the smugglers keep their boats, where they gather," Ms Pinotti said. "The plans for military intervention are there."

She was speaking a day before EU leaders hold an emergency summit in Brussels called in the wake of a shipwreck off Libya last weekend which authorities believe may have killed more than 800 migrants.

In the latest arrival of migrants, an Italian naval vessel docked in the Sicilian port of Augusta with 446 people on board who had been rescued from a smugglers' boat on Tuesday off the southern coast of the Italian mainland. The navy said 59 of the migrants are children.

Ms Pinotti said she was cautiously hopeful that the EU summit would take tangible steps to deal with the migrant crisis. Hundreds of migrants have been arriving on Italian shores for days, after being rescued at sea when their overloaded boats run into problems.

"We think it's the moment in which Europe decides, forcefully, to have an international police operation, which will undo this band of criminals," Ms Pinotti said.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has urged the European Union to craft long-range, comprehensive policy on the migrants. He said one way would be to establish refugee camps in Niger, Sudan and elsewhere in Africa with UN assistance.

Italy has saved some 200,000 migrant lives at sea since the start of 2014. But Italy's "noble, generous reaction alone isn't enough" he said.

"We are asking Europe to be Europe, not just when it's time to devise a budget."

He said broad, long-term EU strategy, with wider sea patrols and a robust presence in southern Libya, would help combat "21st-century slave drivers" of migrants.

Ms Pinotti said Italy would be ready to take the helm of any military intervention if asked and as long as it is carried out as an international mission, backed by the United Nations.

"We're ready to do our share. We're the closest country to Libya," she said.

The defence minister said the flow of migrants is not about to stop, saying "90% are from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Somalia, from places where they are afraid of dying. We cannot stop them" from leaving their homelands.

Mr Renzi and Ms Pinotti indicated that requests for asylum could be processed in refugee camps in African countries near Libya. These could include Tunisia, Niger and Sudan. Italy's defence minister said that it would then be up to all EU countries to take their share of migrants found eligible for refugee status or asylum.

Because Italy is the first EU country the migrants set foot in, they stay in reception centres, sometimes for years, while their requests or appeals for asylum are processed.

Migrants deemed ineligible for asylum are ordered expelled, but many slip away and head to northern Europe, to reach relatives.

Press Association

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