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Interior Ministers of France, Germany and Italy to Discuss Italian Migrant Crisis

  • VOA News

FILE - Migrants wait to disembark from the Vos Hestia ship as they arrives in the Crotone, Italy, after being rescued by a Save the Children crew in the Mediterranean sea off the Libya coast, June 21, 2017.

The interior ministers of France, Germany and Italy will meet in Paris Sunday to help Italy deal with masses of migrants arriving on its shores.

Italy is struggling to respond to the influx of tens of thousands of migrants and threatened earlier this week to close its ports to migrant rescue boats in order to force the vessels to go to other Mediterranean countries.

Officials say French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, German counterpart Thomas de Maiziere and Italy’s Marco Minniti will meet European Union Commissioner for Refugees Dimitris Avramopoulos in Paris Sunday to discuss the situation.

Watch: EU Pledges Support as Italy Threatens to Close Ports Following Migrant Surge

Upsurge in migrants

So far this year, Italy has taken in 82,000 migrants as the country has become the main point of arrival to Europe for the mostly African migrants. In that same period, more than 2,000 migrants have died attempting to make the trip from North Africa.

A stretch of good weather and calm seas has led to more than 10,000 migrants being rescued off Italy’s coast since Sunday. At the current rate, and with months of good sailing weather ahead, the number of migrants heading toward Europe is on track to exceed the 200,000 who landed in Italy in 2016.

Refugees and migrants from many different African nationalities sit aboard an overcrowded rubber boat leaving Libyan territorial waters early March 5, 2017. A similar boat carrying more than 100 people sank off the coast of Libya earlier this week and dozens are missing.
Refugees and migrants from many different African nationalities sit aboard an overcrowded rubber boat leaving Libyan territorial waters early March 5, 2017. A similar boat carrying more than 100 people sank off the coast of Libya earlier this week and dozens are missing.

‘Unsustainable’ situation

In a letter to the European Commission, Italy’s ambassador to the EU, Maurizio Massari, said the situation has become “unsustainable.”

The EU Commission has backed Italy’s pleas for greater European solidarity and has urged other EU states to allow rescue boats to dock in their ports.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday the group will discuss further measures with Italy and Greece in the next week to help them tackle the influx.

Avramopoulos, the EU migration commissioner, also offered Italy his support this week.

“Italy is under huge pressure and we are not going to leave this country alone,” he said.

Other options

Legal experts say Italy is likely obligated to take the migrants under international refugee laws. However, they say Italy may be trying to force the European Union to implement a 2015 agreement for countries to share refugees across the bloc, a deal that has so far made little progress in being implemented.

Other EU nations have closed their borders to migrants, hoping to block them from moving north. Poland and Hungary have refused to host some asylum-seekers to help ease the burden on Italy and Greece, another front-line country.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has accused fellow EU nations of “looking the other way” and not doing enough to assist Italy with the surge in migrants.

Political ramifications

The influx in migrants this week prompted Minniti, the Italian interior minister, to cancel a trip to Washington in order to address the growing crisis, which is turning into a political issue for the country’s left-leaning coalition government. In municipal elections earlier this month, the coalition lost ground to center-right parties such as Matteo Salvini’s Northern League, which has called for a “stop to the invasion.”

An intense debate is also centered around the role of international NGOs who fund boats to pick up the refugees. Some argue the groups are effectively aiding the human smugglers and allowing the trade to continue.

Migrant origins

The migrants are coming from the shores of Libya, which has become the main gateway to Europe for people from across sub-Saharan Africa, and also from the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Syria and Bangladesh.

Around 15 percent of the migrants arriving this year in Europe are Nigerian. Twelve percent are Bangladeshi; Guineans account for 10 percent, and 9 percent are Ivorians.

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