Migrant crisis: Is Italy gearing up to close its ports?
Pointing to an unsustainable situation with respect to African migrants coming in through the sea, Italy has threatened to close off its ports to boats carrying them. The move comes against the backdrop of large number of migrants coming to Italy, especially in the past few days. Italian PM, Paolo Gentiloni had further recently accused other European countries of "looking the other way".
What context is this happening in?
People from North African countries including Libya look to migrate to Italy in search of better opportunities, traveling via boats from Libya's Northern Mediterranean coast. 73,000 migrants have so far landed up in Italy this year, a 14% increase from the same period last year. While about 2,000 are estimated to have died in transit, around 10,000 have attempted the journey last week.
Root causes of the Italian migrant crisis
Libya and surrounding nations have spiralled into a state of lawlessness following the NATO-backed ouster of Libyan ruler, Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Migrant influx through the sea further increased after Macedonia, Slovenia and Croatia closed the land route to Northern Europe.
We are saturated and exasperated, says Italy
An Italian prosecutor had earlier accused humanitarian charities of colluding with Libyan traffickers. "The idea of blocking humanitarian ships flying foreign flags from returning to Italian ports has been discussed. Italy has reached saturation point." an official source revealed to Reuters. Pointing to a need for a long term strategy, former PM Matteo Renzi had further said that the public was "exasperated".
Is it legal to turn refugee boats back?
While those including the Australian government have turned refugee boats back at sea, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea mandates that the concerned country should help ships in distress and make necessary arrangements for disembarkation, as soon as possible.
EU nods along
While appreciating Italy for its 'exemplary' management of the crisis, Dimitri Avramopoulos, EU's migration commissioner agreed with Italy that the situation was 'untenable'. Stating that handling the migrant crisis was not up to a few EU countries, he urged them to 'step up' and financially back Italy, along with providing aid to Libya, in line with the EU migration declaration made in February 2017.
What does this signify?
Europe's social and economic fabric is under considerable strain from huge refugee influx from Syria and North Africa. While Italy has so far been at the forefront of rescue operations, it seems to be losing grip on the situation and could possibly leave migrants with no recourse. Addressing the crisis requires joint efforts from EU nations in improving the humanitarian situation in North Africa.