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EU 'radio silence' over Italy migrant crisis

The Local · 9 Sep 2014, 15:26

Published: 09 Sep 2014 15:26 GMT+02:00

So far this year the Italian government has saved more than 106,000 boat migrants, as part of its “Mare Nostrum” (“Our Sea”) operation, costing the country millions of euros every month.

Promises of greater support made last year by European leaders have however turned into “radio silence”, according to the Asylum Information Database (Aida) report published on Tuesday.

“Europe is sitting on the fence” leaving Italy to cope with increased boat migration “with only limited financial support of the EU”, the report said.

“A true European response is lacking,” Aida found, despite around 60 percent of migrants to Italy moving on to other EU countries.

Speaking to The Local, Christopher Hein, director of the Italian Council for Refugees (Cir), said the current debate “is overshadowed by national egoism rather than a [European] Union solution.”

The migrant crisis is being compounded by war in Syria, which has forced the majority of the country’s three million refugees to flee to neighbouring countries.

“In front of such a humanitarian drama, at the edge of the EU, all need to do more,” Hein said.

Last year 26 percent of boat migrants to Italy were Syrians or Palestinians from Syria, according to the UN’s refugee agency.

Many travel overland to Libya, from where they take dangerously overcrowded boats to Italy. Growing violence and instability in the North African country has worsened the plight of refugees, with militia groups directly involved in people trafficking across the Mediterranean, Hein said.

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“As long as the situation in Libya stands as it is, it is certainly necessary to intervene in countries before people arrive there,” he said.

The EU should set up registration posts in countries such as Chad, Egypt and Sudan, for refugees fleeing countries including Syria and Eritrea, Hein said. That way those in need could be granted asylum in the EU without having to take the perilous boat journey to Italy.

Such an idea is already being discussed in Brussels, but “we are still a way from political consent”, Hein said. 

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