Italy demands EU nations share burden of migrant arrivals.

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Italy has threatened to stop foreign boats from bringing in migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea if other countries do not do more to respond to a recent surge of arrivals. Senior Italian officials said the government was considering a dramatic tightening of immigration policy. Maurizio Massari, Italy’s ambassador to the EU, told Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU’s commissioner for migration, on Wednesday that the situation in Italy demanded stronger action, according to the officials. Sandro Gozi, Italy’s EU minister, told the Financial Times: “Italy is really reaching its limit and it’s not written anywhere that we have to be the only ones welcoming people saved in the Mediterranean. “There needs to be burden sharing, the migrants need to be brought to the ports of other countries as well”. One of the Italian officials said: “We could deny the landing of boats that are not flying Italian flags and are not part of EU missions.” Mr Avramopoulos said the commission was “notably ready to substantially increase financial support to Italy if needed”. Saying Italy was right that the situation along the central Mediterranean migration route was untenable, he called for urgent action from other countries in the bloc. “Now is the moment to deliver and we will hold them to this,” said Mr Avramopoulos. Italy’s threats show its discomfort at having to manage a record pace of migrant arrivals across the Mediterranean. So far this year, more than 73,000 migrants have arrived in the country by sea, a 14 per cent increase over the same period in 2016, when a record 181,000 arrived over the course of the year. We need to acknowledge that public opinion is exasperated Matteo Renzi, Democratic party leader Another 10,000 migrants saved in the Mediterranean Sea in recent days are still in transit towards Italy. That flurry of rescue operations this week caused Marco Minniti, the interior minister, to abort a planned trip to Washington and return to Rome for emergency talks with Paolo Gentiloni, the prime minister. The Italian threat to block foreign boats carrying migrants reflects the growing political pressure that the migration issue is putting on the ruling centre-left Democratic party. “We need to acknowledge that public opinion is exasperated,” said Matteo Renzi, the party leader and former prime minister, on Wednesday. In municipal elections this month centre-right opposition parties made big gains, partly because of their tough position on immigration. The populist Five Star Movement has also veered towards the right on immigration, demanding a halt to new arrivals in Rome. Italy’s threat, which appears aimed at the work of several non-governmental organisations and merchant vessels performing rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea, could be hard to defend in terms of Italy’s obligations under international law. Mathilde Auvillain, a spokeswoman for SOS Mediterranee, an NGO that carries out migrant rescue missions in the Mediterranean, said: “We only respect the directions we receive from the Italian Coast Guard and our ships only dock at the port they assign. We always respect the law, and the first law to respect is the Law of the Sea which says that people in trouble have to be rescued.” Stefano Argenziano, operations co-ordinator for MSF, another NGO, said those rescued at sea needed to be “ taken to the safest port of disembarkation” in order to respond to their “needs and vulnerabilities”. Since the migrant crisis ramped up in the central Mediterranean in 2014, Italy has often complained of insufficient help from other European countries in managing the influx of asylum seekers. In particular, it has lamented the limited uptake of an EU scheme to relocate thousands of migrants from Italy to other countries. Many member states have balked at their agreed quotas. While the EU quickly mobilised €6bn to strike a deal to stop migrants from leaving Turkey, it has been slower to do the same for African nations that are among the top countries for migrants arriving in Italy. According to Italian interior ministry data, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Guinea have been the top nationalities for migrants arriving by sea this year.


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