Today’s briefing on the unfolding “Camp of the Saints” crisis in Southern Europe begins on a hopeful note. According to ANSAmed, the new agreement between Tunis and Rome to stop the departure of the refugee boats is bearing fruit:
Italian-Tunisian Deal Holds, Departures Halted
TUNIS, APRIL 8 — Almost unnoticed, the agreement closed by Tunisia and Italy is starting to work. The facts, as sources in government have leaked, confirm that the pledge made when the two Home Ministers Habib Essid and Roberto Maroni shook hands has not remained only on paper, but is having its first results.
The figures underlined by the Home Ministry in its formal reports confirm this. In fact, in the Gulf of Gabes two large boats were intercepted in three days, transporting almost 350 illegal migrants. Once on land, the migrants were detained and a judge that will hear them in the coming hours will decide on their fate.
The effectiveness of the operations of the Tunisian authorities is also confirmed by the number of people rescued at sea. Just a few hours ago, units of the Coastguard — together with personnel of an oil rig — rescued around 50 people in open sea after they tried their luck despite the bad weather. They were lucky that the response to their request for help arrived in time.
Currently Tunisia is witnessing the first forced repatriations of its emigrants from Lampedusa, with apparent indifference. The media don’t give much attention to the issue, if any, and prefer to focus on the concessions the Government has managed to obtain during the exhausting negotiations with Italy on repatriation mechanisms and on the protection of illegal immigrants, for whom protection of human dignity has been requested, and obtained as people in government circles underline.
For Tunisia this means that migrants who have not been granted a residence permit, not even a temporary one, should not be photographed or filmed. The Tunisian Interior Ministry has not specified what will happen to people who are sent back. A source said that their personal situation will have to be screened by security authorities, and probably by the magistracy. So their immediate future is also surrounded by uncertainty.
Some sources add that it is not a certainty that they will end up in prison, and that it is more likely that they will be taken back to where they came from after an assessment of their social conditions. This mild approach recognises in a way the special situation of migrants who reached Italy before the agreement was signed. It should be stressed though that since a few days, Tunisia is using a strong arm against those who are detained while trying to reach Italy illegally.
In most cases they are in fact trying to reach other EU countries that house large communities of fellow countrymen. Nearly all these migrants point out that they want to go to these countries to return to Tunisia later, once they have enough money to start their own business.
This sounds promising. However, notice that the dateline is yesterday, meaning that the boats described in the article were probably detained on Wednesday or Thursday.
More recent stories indicate that at least a thousand new refugees have landed at Lampedusa since the island was emptied of almost all its migrants several days ago. According to AGI:
1,000 in Lampedusa, More Boats to Arrive
Lampedusa — Around one thousand immigrants mostly from Libya landed in Lampedusa yesterday. They are, therefore, potential refugees. UNHCR estimates that 440 thousand people in despair from Sub-Saharan Africa are waiting on Libya’s shores.
The latest 243 immigrants, including women and children, arrived at around 1:30pm. Two more boats are expected to arrive. One of them is transporting sixty people.
Also from AGI:
Barge With Hundreds on Board Docks at Lampedusa
Lampedusa — The second vessel intercepted by Italian ships is docked in Lampedusa, Sicily with hundreds of immigrants on board. Access to the port area has been denied to journalists and priers. Various ambulances at the harbour collected persons brought on land with stretchers. Another vessel containing 50 immigrants had already arrived in the afternoon.
Hundreds More Migrants Arrive in Lampedusa
Lampedusa — The Coast Guard says hundreds of illegal migrants are arriving on Lampedusa on two boats this afternoon.
The first boat, which is smaller, was carrying about 50 people and has already reached the island and has been taken to Favaloro. The other, slightly larger carrying about 200 to 300 people, was seen 13 miles south of the island.
From reading the above articles, it’s not clear whether these newly-arrived refugees are covered by the agreement between Tunisia and Italy, which would allow them to immediately be shipped back. In any case, regardless of the accord hammered out by Rome and Tunis, the European Union’s human rights laws pertaining to asylum-seekers would seem to forbid the Italians from returning them.
However, Italy is not particularly happy with the EU at this point. The Italian interior minister is now expressing what we already knew: the European Union is all talk and no action.
Again, from AGI:
Maroni Says EU Solidarity is Just Words
Bergamo — Roberto Maroni criticised the EU over the immigrant emergency, saying that its solidarity is just words.
The interior minister explained: “The willingness to act quickly for those in difficulty,” is what “is missing a little at the European level. Europe prides itself on grand principles, but when called on to demonstrate its solidarity, nothing happens.”
The justice minister also weighs in:
Alfano Tells EU: Stop Passing the Buck on Africa Migration
Turin — Italy’s justice minister, Angelino Alfano, lambasts the EC’s attitude to North Africa’s migration contingencies. The minister characterised the Union as “failing to address issues” and explained that the EC “has obligations too.” Speaking in Turin, Alfano said “Lampedusa isn’t just the southernmost part of Italy, it is the border of Europe. […] they [Brussels] needs to understand that migrants don’t head for Lampedusa because of its sunny beaches; they are crossing the border to access wealth and democracy.”
The subtext in Mr. Alfano’s words is this:
“These culture-enrichers aren’t just attempting to get into Italy. Many, if not most of them, would prefer life in Paris, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, London, Rotterdam, Brussels, or Berlin over the joys of Rome and Naples and Turin.
This is your problem as well as ours. And you can be damned sure we’re going to expedite the migrants’ departure from Italy so they can get to their cherished destinations as soon as possible.”
The president of the Italian Republican wants Europe to act in unison:
Napolitano: On Immigrants EU Must Speak With Single Voice
Budapest — Napolitano said, “It is necessary and possible for Europe to speak with a single voice on immigration and asylum. The President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, was speaking at the final press conference of the informal summit of the “United for Europe” group in Budapest. The Italian Head of State once again called for a common effort from the EU for the dignified reception of the immigrants and underlined the need for clarification in Europe over the interpretation of the Schengen treaty.
But the president of Germany is not so sure that this is possible:
Wulff: Unsure That EU Can Speak With One Voice
Budapest — Speaking at the final press conference following the informal summit of “United for Europe” in Budapest, German President Christian Wulff explained again what Germany’s line on immigration is. “I tend to be slightly pessimistic about the possibility that the European Union can speak with one voice on immigration soon”, he said. By means of the Schengen Agreement, Europe has established “the freedom of movement”, he added, “which is a great thing. To address this issue, it is indispensable to speak with one voice on aid to these people’s countries of origin”.
The German interior ministry is being a bit more blunt about the issue — it says, in effect, that Italy’s plan for exporting its boat people is a violation of the spirit — if not the letter — of EU law:
Temporary Residency for Illegals Violates Schengen
Berlin — German interior ministry spokesman Jens Teschke, says the temporary residence permits for illegal migrants violates the spirit of Schengen and will raise the question in Luxembourg, where a meeting of European Union interior ministers will take place. “We see in these measures taken by Italy,” said Teschke, “a violation of the spirit of Schengen.
“The German and Italian ministers must address this.”
Viewing all these articles together, a picture emerges of what is happening to Italy. Since the crisis began in January, the process has gone something like this:
|1.||Thousands of impoverished culture-enrichers from Tunisia, Libya, and points south arrive with distressing regularity on the beaches of Lampedusa and Sicily.|
|2.||Italy is required by EU law to feed, clothe, house, and give medical treatment to the refugees. It is forbidden to summarily return them whence they came.|
|3.||The Italians construct temporary camps on the mainland and convert military barracks into holding centers to house their new charges.|
|4.||After complaining to the EU, the Italians receive a bit of money from Brussels.|
|5.||The culture-enrichers riot, escape from the camps, and commit crimes in their new country of residence.|
|6.||Some of the escapees attempt to cross the border into France, but the French border guards forcibly return them to Italy.|
|7.||Italy retaliates by granting the migrants “temporary residence” papers, which by the Schengen Agreement permit them to travel freely among the states that signed the agreement.|
|8.||France responds by imposing new requirements on any arrivals who hold these temporary residence permits: they must demonstrate means, and be able to prove that they are no threat to French security. This effectively excludes almost all of them, and back they go to Italy.|
|9.||The Italians complain loudly to the French and the EU that France has unilaterally withdrawn from the Schengen Area.|
|10.||The EU sends Italy a bit more money.|
|11.||Italy signs an agreement with Tunisia that permits the repatriation of illegal migrants, and promises a joint effort to prevent more boats from coming.|
|12.||Italy repatriates about thirty Tunisian criminals, or approximately 0.1% of the refugees who have arrived since the trouble started in January.|
|13.||Thousands of new boat people arrive at the harbor in Lampedusa.|
|14.||The European Union says it’s sorry, but there’s nothing much else it can do except maybe send a little more money. The Italians will just have to handle the whole mess on their own.|
The title for this little melodrama might be “Fourteen Steps to Disaster”.
But we’re not done with the steps; we will surely see #15, and #16, and any number of additional steps before reaching the dénouement.
The UN says there are 440,000 sub-Saharan refugees in North Africa waiting to cross the Mediterranean and gain a coveted refuge in the Land of Milk and Generous Social Benefits. These coveted destinations include many of the gleaming alabaster cities far to the north of the Italian border. If the last thirty years are any indication, most of those desperate migrants will eventually find their way to their intended new homes.
The EU is praying that this cup will pass, but it won’t.
Hat tips: Insubria and C. Cantoni.