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Italy hails 'great success' as EU approves migration reforms

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AFP/The Local - [email protected]
Italy hails 'great success' as EU approves migration reforms
A soldier stands by the walls of the migrant detention centre on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, which has become the main arrival point for people trying to reach Europe via the central Mediterranean route. Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi on Wednesday praised an agreement to reform EU migration laws, while charities that help migrants slammed the plan as "cruel" and "unworkable".

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"The approval of the pact is a great success for Europe and for Italy, which will now be able to count on new rules to manage migratory flows and fight human traffickers," Piantedosi said in a statement.

Italy has long been the first point of arrival for people trying to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa - and has long complained that other EU countries do not do enough to help.

READ ALSO: What’s behind Italy’s soaring number of migrant arrivals?

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's hard-right government came to power last year on a strongly anti-immigration platform, vowing to slash the number of boat landings by, among other things, implementing a "naval blockade".

Despite these pledges, and a raft of government announcements of new rules affecting people arriving by sea, the number has soared in 2023.

Over 150,000 people have arrived in Italy by boat so far this year, compared to just under 100,000 last year and 64,000 in 2021, interior ministry figures show.

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi pictured at a press conference on March 9th in Cutro, Calabria, following a deadly migrant shipwreck. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

Piantedosi said Italy had used "the right balance between responsibility and solidarity" to help forge the new rules, which include a "solidarity mechanism" intended to take pressure off southern countries receiving large numbers of people.

EU countries and lawmakers had come up with "a balanced solution so that EU border countries, which are particularly exposed to migratory pressure, no longer feel alone", Piantedosi said.

READ ALSO: How has Italy's 'anti-immigrant' government changed the rules for foreigners?

The accord still needs to be formally approved by the European Council, representing the 27 EU member countries, and the European Parliament before it becomes law.

The reform includes plans for faster checks on irregular arrivals, the creation of more border detention centres, and accelerated deportation for rejected asylum applicants.

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The negotiators were keen to reach a workable deal that could be enacted before the term of the current European Parliament ends in June 2024.

But more than 50 charities - including Amnesty International, Oxfam, Caritas and Save the Children - have criticised the changes, saying in an open letter that the package would create a "cruel system" that is unworkable.

"Rather than channelling funding towards more camps, walls, and surveillance, resources should go towards providing effective solutions, based on protection and assistance, of the kind offered to people fleeing Ukraine," the letter stated.

The Sea-Watch rescue charity said on Wednesday in a separate statement along with other NGOs: "This agreement is a historic failure and a bow to the right-wing parties of Europe."

Sea-Watch is one of several organisations operating ships in the Mediterranean to rescue migrants who try to reach Europe on small boats.

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The central Med crossing, between North Africa and Italy and Malta, is the world's deadliest migration route, with more than 2,200 deaths this year alone, according to the UN.

The Sea-Watch statement called the EU reform agreement "a turning point and one of the most blatant displays of disrespect to human rights and the suffering along European borders".

"With the agreement on the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), the EU has decided to formalise a status quo where violence, neglect, torture and leaving people to die are every day practice," it said.

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