Legal pathways for refugees to Europe: developments and challenges
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Towards a solidarity mechanism for disembarking migrants in the Mediterranean?
Although the actions of search and rescue NGOs continue to create controversy, some European countries are debating the establishment of a solidarity mechanism to distribute survivors.
The mandate of Operation EUNAVFOR Med/Sophia, launched in June 2015 after a series of shipwrecks and to combat smuggling networks in the Mediterranean, was extended on 27 March until 30 September 2019, but without its maritime resources. This takes place against a backdrop of the intensification of crossings in the area and a continuation to hinder the work of NGOs regarding rescues at sea. For example, the “Alan Kurdi”, a humanitarian ship belonging to German NGO Sea-Eye, which rescued 64 migrants on 4 April, was forced to wait 10 days at sea before the Maltese authorities allowed it to dock on its shores, following signature of a distribution agreement between France, Luxembourg, Germany and Portugal. On 28 June, following a 16-day blockade, the captain of Sea-Watch 3 decided to land on the Italian island of Lampedusa in order to disembark the 40 migrants still on board, in defiance of the Italian government’s prohibition.
While the case of Sea-Watch 3, which has been particularly well publicised, illustrates the European impasse on migration issues in the Mediterranean, the challenge of dealing with migrants rescued at sea and the implementation of a “solidarity mechanism” is currently at the heart of European discussions. Although Malta allowed migrants rescued by several ships to disembark at the beginning of July, the Maltese Foreign Minister, together with his Italian counterpart, spoke of the need to stop the “boat-by-boat” approach.
In this spirit, Paris and Berlin have been campaigning for several weeks for the establishment of a “coalition of the willing”, which would systematically agree to share the reception of rescued asylum seekers in the Mediterranean. After an initial meeting in Helsinki, during which the European Union’s Interior Ministers failed to reach an agreement, 14 Member States agreed to such a mechanism in Paris on 22 July. While the precise terms of the agreement have not been published, a further meeting is planned in Malta in September to clarify the outlines of this initiative.
Italy and Malta did not participate in the Paris meeting. Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is hostile to idea of humanitarian vessels docking in Italy, has stood firm on his position. Like the Maltese government, he is concerned that people who do not request asylum will remain the responsibility of the country in which they first arrive. The day before the meeting, he addressed a letter to his French counterpart, stating that France and Germany alone cannot decide migration policies by ignoring the requests of “the most exposed countries”, such as Italy and Malta. In Helsinki, the Italian and Maltese authorities presented a text that advocated for the disembarkation and the creation of temporary reception and identification centres for migrants in countries bordering those from which they left.