The refugee crisis in southern Europe is evolving so rapidly that I may need to give a daily briefing on the situation.
Since early January, thousands of migrants have been packed into holding camps on the island of Lampedusa, awaiting transportation to the Italian mainland. Italy, however, has decided to repatriate the immigrants aggressively whenever possible — that is, under circumstances permitted by the EU’s human rights laws.
Thirty migrants who had been housed at Lampedusa were repatriated yesterday, and their departure caused unrest among their comrades who remained on the island. AGI has the story:
Disturbances in Lampedusa After Deportation
Palermo — Last night, for a while, the situation in Lampedusa grew tense. Some Tunisian immigrants created disturbances after the repatriation of 30 of their countrymen, the first made possible by an agreement with the Tunisian government. The disorders started at the Contrada Imbriacola holding center after the news broke about the removal from the island by plane of 30 deportees with alleged felony records.
Fearing the same outcome, some 74 Tunisians, who arrived Wednesday with the deported group, angrily expressed their concerns. Peace was re-establish late last night.
ANSAmed has more:
Meanwhile, the first flight repatriating Tunisians left Lampedusa last night, after the signature last Tuesday of a deal between Italy and Tunisia. The 30 or so Tunisians on board the flight are all said to have criminal records. This is according to sources in Lampedusa, who say that the Tunisian authorities themselves, as part of the newly signed agreement, supplied the list recording criminal activity.
As reported a few days ago, Italy has reached an agreement with Tunisia to allow the repatriation of migrants. Given that Tunisia is now willing to accept the return of their own criminals, the Italians must have sweetened the deal, presumably with substantial monetary assistance.
The return of the criminals and the relocation of other immigrants to camps on the mainland has all but emptied Lampedusa of culture-enrichers for the time being:
With the departure in the early hours of this morning of the ship “Flaminia” for Catania and then Livorno, there are almost no migrants left on the island of Lampedusa. After an “invasion” that has lasted for weeks, there are now only 72 left. The remaining migrants are currently in the island’s reception centre and are expected to be repatriated in the coming days. The 72 arrived in Lampedusa on Wednesday, on a boat with 104 people on board, after the signature of the agreement by the Italian Interior Minister Maroni and the Tunisian authorities.
While the boats keep crossing the Mediterranean to Lampedusa, Sicily, and Malta, the political ramifications of the crisis continue to unfold in Italy, France, and the bureaucratic labyrinth of the European Union. France is determined to prevent the flotsam and jetsam of Tunisia from passing through into its territory, and has been forcing Tunisians who manage to cross the border to return to Italy.
To get around the “free passage” provisions of the Schengen Agreement, France established new rules concerning temporary residence, which effectively bar entry to any Tunisians who are neither rich nor well-connected. Italy is protesting the French decision, and insists that the restrictions placed on the movement of migrants constitute a unilateral withdrawal on the part of the French from the Schengen Agreement:
(ANSAmed) — Rome, April 7 — Talks have been held in Milan this morning between the Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, and his French counterpart, Claude Gueant, to assess the issue of migrants following yesterday’s clash between Italy and France over the temporary permits decided by Italy yesterday for around 20,000 Tunisians and the driving back of those who crossed the border between Italy and France at Ventimiglia.
“Tomorrow I will tell the French Interior Minister, Claude Gueant, that the Tunisians to whom we issue temporary permits have the right to circulate,” Maroni said last night on a television programme. “There is only one way to stop this: for France to leave the Schengen area or to suspend the treaty”. If Tunisians who have been given a temporary residence permit by Italy attempt to cross the border, “France cannot reject them,” Maroni said.
“The circular letter issued by the French Interior Minister to police chiefs does not say that the temporary permit is not valid, but lays down five conditions that are all satisfied,” he said. As a result, “there is no need for talks: France’s objections are not based on the existing rules”.
“I understand that there are elections in France in 2012, and that Sarkozy faces competition from the far-right,” Maroni said, “ but flexing muscles is wrong, and placing troops on the borders is the biggest mistake”.
ANSA has more:
Neither side showed any signs of backing down on Friday and the dispute may now be taken to the European Union level, with a meeting of European interior ministers chaired by Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom set to take place in Brussels Monday.
“The rules of the Schengen Agreement and bilateral treaties between Italy and France should be applied to the issue that caused the controversy,” said Maroni, who argued on Thursday that France had to accept the migrants or leave Schengen altogether. Gueant continued to disagree: “As regards the temporary residence permits, we’ll act in compliance with Schengen but also with Article Five, which says migrants must have documents and (sufficient) economic resources (to enter)”. A European Commission spokesman said Friday there were grey areas concerning the application of the Schengen Agreement, while stressing the possession of a residence permit does not guarantee a migrant the right to travel throughout the Schengen area. photo: migrants in southern Italy.
The atmosphere cooled a bit after France and Italy agreed to establish joint patrols off the North African coast to prevent the migrant boats from leaving Tunisia and Libya:
(ANSA) — Rome, April 8 — Tensions between Italy and France eased on Friday when their interior ministers met here although a high-voltage spat over Italy’s migrant crisis looked far from resolved.
The neighbours agreed to operate joint patrols of waters in the Mediterranean in a bid to stop a flood of mostly Tunisian migrants landing on Italy’s shores following unrest in North Africa.
But big differences remained over what to do with some 26,000 migrants to have arrived in Italy this year, with the Italian government demanding France stop blocking those who want to cross the common border from doing so and the French insisting they have the right to turn the non-EU citizens back.
“I’m satisfied with today’s meeting,” said Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, who on Thursday accused France of adopting a “hostile attitude”, after talks with his Gallic counterpart Claude Gueant.
“From a crisis, it’s possible to create a strong, common, joint initiative like the one we decided on today to give a concrete response to the problems Italy and France are facing over migration.
“These are problems we want to resolve with Europe as part of a solidarity (effort) that we aim to stimulate and reinforce,” added Maroni, who has accused the EU of leaving Italy to handle the migrant crisis on its own.
The conflict between Italy and France is not the only diplomatic issue to arise within the EU over the refugee problem. Many boatloads of migrants also land on the island of Malta, which has very limited space in which to house immigrants. Malta is a sovereign nation within the EU, and constantly struggles to get help from Brussels and other EU nations with its refugee problem.
When boats are wrecked between Maltese and Italian territory, the maritime services for each country try to make sure that the refugees end up in the other’s territory. A series of recent incidents in which the stranded immigrants were brought to Valletta has caused tensions between Italy and Malta. According to ANSAmed:
Lampedusa (agrigento) — April 8 — A Maltese patrol boat has rescued a boat carrying 170 migrants. The boat, which had left the Libyan coast, was rescued in the area 40 miles off Lampedusa where a rickety boat with around 300 people on board was wrecked on Wednesday night, with only 53 of the travellers saved.
The operation took place at around 5:00 in the morning. After rescuing the struggling boat and transferring the migrants, the patrol boat from Valletta is said to have headed to Lampedusa, drawing up to the border of Italian territorial waters. This is thought to be the starting point for a diplomatic stand-off between the Maltese authorities and the Italian Interior Ministry, with the migrants eventually taken to Malta instead. With their arrival, the island hosts over 1.000 people who have fled from Libya.
Yesterday afternoon, a further 200 migrants travelling on a boat that broke down 51 miles from Lampedusa – after a joint intervention by Maltese and Italian patrol boats – were transferred on to the boat and taken to the island.
Another boat carrying around a hundred illegal immigrants was intercepted this morning by the Financial Guard in the Ionian Sea, off the Calabrian coasts and taken to the port of Roccella Jonica. The migrants, whose nationalities have not been disclosed, include women and children.
Since the Libyan exodus is still underway, and the political situation in both Libya and Tunisia is so unstable, the flow of migrants is bound to accelerate in the months to come.
I’m curious to see how the joint French-Italian patrols will force the refugee boats to turn back. If the people-smugglers refuse to turn around, what then? Blow them out of the water? Capsize them? Brussels will frown on both these expedients.
One thing is for certain: to allow these refugees continued access to the European mainland is a recipe for disaster. Since January, between 20,000 and 30,000 migrants have arrived on Lampedusa, while an undetermined number — but also in the thousands — have landed on Malta and Sicily. Most of these refugees have been shuttled to the Italian mainland, and many of those are eager to get into France.
As I noted yesterday, the preferred European destination for most Third World migrants is Britain or Sweden, with Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands also ranking high on the list of tantalizing socialist utopias. Borders being what they are in Europe, most of the wretched refuse will eventually reach their intended destination.
Britain, being an island, is somewhat of an exception, and large numbers of refugees are now roughing it outside Calais, hoping to get across the English Channel and into the welcoming arms of David Cameron and the most multicultural haven on the planet.
Easing the population pressure on the Channel coast may one day become a pressing political necessity in France. What then? Will the French authorities start leaving well-caulked dinghies on the shingle near Calais?
Hat tips: Insubria and C. Cantoni.