quarta-feira, 18 de maio de 2016
Europe helped Greece in its migration hour of need. Now Italy needs help
Europe helped Greece in its migration hour of need. Now Italy needs help
Record numbers of migrants are likely to arrive on Lampedusa. The EU can’t leave Rome to deal with problem on its own.
By STEFANO STEFANINI 5/18/16, 5:32 AM CET
As summer approaches, the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa gears up for yet another spike in illegal immigration from Libya. A quick glance at the map will tell you why it has become the favorite port of entry for migrants hoping to reach European shores.
They trek across the Sahara in unspeakable conditions and take their chances on shoddy boats across the Mediterranean. They are desperate. Lampedusa, a dot in the blue, southwest of Malta, is the closest sliver of EU land to the Libyan coastline: If you make it to Lampedusa you have made it to Europe.
Geography is inexorable. Libya’s turbulent politics have made the country a highway for African immigration, and Lampedusa its European hub. Italy cannot insulate itself from Libya.
For a long time the Italian navy and coast guard saved migrants’ lives; more recently the EU has joined their efforts with Operation Sophia. Still, an estimated 3,000 people have perished in the waters between Africa and Sicily. According to the International Organization for Migration, the Lampedusa immigration route was by far the most lethal in 2015.
For years Italy has coped with the challenge alone. In 2015, just over 150,000 people landed on Italian coasts. This year could set new records: Italian authorities have estimated that arrivals may reach 270,000 at current rates. With over 100,000 migrants hosted in Italy, the country’s resources are already stretched thin.
* * *
Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano suggested last month that, “when conditions allow,” the EU-Turkey agreement could be “replicated with Libya.” The idea was dismissed out of hand by the rotating EU presidency: “Countries facing Italy are different than Turkey,” Dutch Interior Minister Klaas DijKhoff said. That may be true, but Alfano is on to something. Like Greece, Italy cannot deal with permanent mass migration alone.
The Turkish model is not much help. Turkey is a NATO member and an EU candidate. In the best case scenario in Libya’s stabilization process it will take years for the internationally backed Fayez al-Sarraj government to be in control of its territory and to re-establish a functioning state to which migrants could be “returned.” The prospect of any immigration accord, let alone of a Turkish-like trade-off, with Libya is a medium-long term prospect at best.
Both the Turkey-Balkan route and the Libyan highway are consequences, not causes, of conflict.
Nor can migrants traveling through Libya be compared to those who arrive in Turkey. The exodus via Turkey is part of the larger wave of refugees escaping the horrors of Syrian civil war and other conflict-ravaged zones of the Middle East. The same factors have pushed refugees into Lebanon and Jordan, and displaced millions of people within Syria. In 2015, Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis were by far the top nationalities of asylum-seekers in the EU. They typically traveled through Turkey to reach European soil in Greece.
The bulk of migrants arriving via Libya, meanwhile, are African: Most of them come from Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and Gambia. Fewer than 7,000 Syrians came to Italy from Libya in 2015. While there are legitimate asylum-seekers among African migrants — asylum has been granted, for instance, to a number of Eritreans — the Libya-Lampedusa route carries mostly “economic” migrants as opposed to refugees. As such, most cannot make a claim to stay in Europe. They can be repatriated, but where to? Certainly not Libya.
Very few are, in the end, sent back. And when they stay, they join the masses of illegal immigrants roaming inside a borderless, but increasingly divided, Europe.
* * *
With the Balkan route closed, migrants are being rerouted through the Ionian and Adriatic seas to reach the EU. Human trafficking is nothing if not a flexible business model. With €4 billion estimated annual profits that are re-invested in illicit activities, including arms trade and financing terrorism, smugglers will not let it go easily. In April, as arrivals in Greece dropped dramatically by 90 percent (to 2,700), three times as many migrants (8,370) reached Italy.
The Italian coast guard has rescued 900 Syrian and Iraqi refugees arriving by boat from Egypt, evidence of the spillover effect from the Balkan route. Like Greece, Italy cannot be expected to shoulder the burden alone — regardless of whether they are dealing with refugees or economic migrants.
The contested Dublin regulation makes a migrant’s country of arrival exclusively responsible for processing the asylum request. This policy needs a thorough review. Screening applicants should be entrusted to European rather than national authorities, and asylum should be shared fairly among EU members. The European Commission has taken steps in the right direction, but has not gone far enough.
Economic immigration, on the other hand, should be met with systematic large scale repatriation to the countries of origin. To design and enforce such a program will take diplomacy, leverage and resources. The EU has the means to put it together, as it did with Turkey. African countries deserve no less of an effort.
Finding a civilized solution will be expensive, but less costly than simply continuing to muddle through. A concrete policy will also send a reassuring message to edgy public opinions. Without one, worried European governments are left with no choice but to fiddle with border controls.
* * *
Both the Turkey-Balkan route and the Libyan highway are consequences, not causes, of conflict. On the Turkish side, we can point to the Syrian crisis and the terrorist threat of Islamic State; on the southern Mediterranean shore, Libyan lawlessness and factional strife.
Stabilizing Libya must become an EU and NATO priority. ISIL’s presence on Libyan shores poses a security threat both to Europe and to neighboring countries like Tunisia. On the military front, Libyan militias are stepping up efforts against ISIL’s stronghold in Sirte. U.S. and Western allies have relied on special operations forces to support the offensive.
The European Union has to take responsibility for all incoming flows, be it via the Sicilian Channel, the Aegean islands, or anywhere else they may run.
Politically, it is imperative to lend full support to the internationally recognized al-Serraj government in Tripoli, and to encourage it to strengthen consensus through national reconciliation. A recent meeting in Vienna, chaired by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, took a step in the right direction. Fayez al-Serraj was promised international support, training of Libyan security forces and an end to the arms embargo. The meeting also included Libya’s regional neighbors — Egypt, Tunisia, Niger, Chad and Sudan — all of whose security is also at stake: If Libya remains a failed state, Boko Haram could join forces with ISIL on the coast.
At sea, EU Operation Sophia has a “coercive mandate” to disrupt smuggling routes and capabilities. It has been criticized, most recently by the British House of Lords, for not doing enough to counter trafficking. Indeed the EU’s potential to “identify, capture and dispose” of traffickers’ vessels is still untapped. NATO should extend its Aegean patrolling activity to the Western Mediterranean. It could easily do so by adapting its long running Operation Active Endeavour to a Mediterranean-wide “maritime situational awareness,” including human trafficking as well as counterterrorism.
While the EU-Turkey agreement is still fraught with difficulties, it nevertheless sent a very clear message. The EU took over responsibility on an issue that one of its members, Greece, could not handle on its own.
By taking responsibility, the EU also reassured neighboring Balkan countries, especially Macedonia, and others that the floodgates are under European control. If the Balkan route shuts down completely, Hungary, Austria, Croatia and Slovenia will no longer need to fence themselves in.
The Lampedusa route operates under different circumstances — it mostly carries a different kind of migrant — yet needs no less of an EU commitment than the Balkan route. Possibly, it needs a greater one. The Libyan situation entails wider regional security concerns and affects a significant source of European energy supplies.
The bottom line is that immigration is an EU problem. Its roads lead to Europe. The European Union has to take responsibility for all incoming flows, be it via the Sicilian Channel, the Aegean islands, or anywhere else they may run.
Stefano Stefanini was permanent representative of Italy at NATO and diplomatic adviser to former Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. He is currently a senior adviser to the Podesta Group and non-resident senior fellow of the Brent Scowcroft Center for International Security at the Atlantic Council, Washington.