Lampedusa Island, Italy —
European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen together with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni promised to address migration issues during a visit to Lampedusa Island, Italy, Sunday (17/9).
“We will decide who comes to the European Union, and under what conditions. Not traffickers and people smugglers,” stressed von der Leyen.
The fishing island was overwhelmed by the arrival of nearly 7,000 migrants in one day last week.
The Red Cross said 1,500 migrants remained at an accommodation center on the island built to house hundreds of people.
Lampedusa Island is tense
Tensions on the island, which is closer to Tunisia than the Italian mainland, are growing as residents express their impatience with the steady stream of migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa, arriving on their shores, not just this week but for decades.
In the face of the new crisis, Meloni has promised tougher measures and called for a naval blockade of North Africa to prevent migrants aboard smugglers’ boats from leaving.
Von der Leyen promised to crack down on migrant smuggling and provide assistance to Italy to tackle the surge in migrant arrivals as part of a 10-point plan. The plan does not appear to end the naval blockade, at least in the near future.
The plan also includes speeding up funds to Tunisia, as part of a deal with the European Union to block departures in exchange for aid, helping Italy speed up asylum requests and establishing humanitarian corridors in countries of origin to prevent illegal routes.
Frontex Support Promise
Von der Leyen also pledged border agency Frontex’s support in ensuring the “rapid return to their countries of origin” of migrants who are ineligible for residence in the European Union, in cooperation with countries of origin.
Von der Leyen called on EU countries to accept voluntary transfers – often a source of dispute – as the EU sends its experts to help manage and register the number of migrants arriving in Italy.
Meloni, who has toned down his aggressive stance towards the European Union since coming to power last year, suggested that any response would need to be coordinated with North African countries.
“The only serious way to deal with this is to help North African authorities manage the flow of those leaving,” he added.
Meloni nonetheless pushed for a naval blockade as an “efficient” measure, noting that previous EU missions had not been run well, creating a pull factor for migrants.
The Italian government intends to immediately activate a system to repatriate migrants who are ineligible to stay in Europe as part of measures to be decided on Monday (18/9). The number of migrants making the dangerous journey to Italy has increased since last year, and continued to climb to record levels in 2016. (em/jm)