Italy threatens to close docks to migrant rescue boats to force EU to act over crisis

The Italian government is considering blocking boats carrying migrants from landing at its ports after nearly 11,000 refugees arrived on its shores in five days. It has been reported that the government has given its ambassador to the EU, Maurizio Massari, a mandate to raise the issue formally with the European commission to seek permission for a drastic revision of EU asylum procedures. One idea being discussed is denying docking privileges to boats not carrying Italian flags that seek to land in Italian ports, mainly in Sicily or Calabria.
The country is buckling under the strain of the migrant crisis while “some countries” in the EU “are looking the other way”, the country’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said. Italy is giving an ultimatum to the European Union to take action or face docks being closed off as huge numbers of desperate refugees fleeing war, famine and torture in Africa. Mr Gentiloni said: ”In the last few hours we are facing the difficulty of managing migratory flows. We can talk about solutions and concerns, but I want to remember that it is an entire country (Italy) that is mobilising to manage this emergency, to control flows, to fight against human traffickers. I want to ask Europe, some European countries to stop looking the other way, because this is not sustainable.”
Italy is the main point of arrival for mostly African migrants to European shores this year, and more boats are sent out almost daily. All of those rescued off the coast of Libya are brought to Italy, often by private charities. Meanwhile, Italy’s neighbours have closed their borders to try to keep migrants from moving north, as they did in the past, and some EU partners such as Poland and Hungary have refused to host some asylum-seekers to ease the burden on Italy and Greece, another frontline country.
The surge in the number of refugees reaching Italy prompted the interior minister, Marco Minniti, to turn back on a flight to Washington to address the crisis. An intense debate has raged in Italy about whether NGOs waiting to rescue people off Libyan coastal waters were acting as an incentive for people-smugglers. The centre-right fared well in local government elections at the weekend, putting pressure on the left-leaning coalition government ahead of elections next year.
Mattia Toaldo, an expert on Libya at the European Council on Foreign Relations described the move to block boats from docking in Italy as “a panic measure”. “I would very much be surprised if it is legal,” he said. “The law requires the rescue of people in distress on the high seas, and this self-blockade of Italian ports would leave migrants floating in the Mediterranean, including those in most NGO rescue ships. It is most likely designed to force Europe to take some kind of other action. It also shows that the ideas tried so far have failed. It was first proposed that the Libyan coastguard take more action to push the boats back. It was then suggested the tribes in southern Libya act as detention guards, and then it was proposed to take action in Niger. Nothing has worked.”

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