“Let them drown!”. Five thousand landings in a week and reception centres in turmoil, EU’s answers are required

Following the terrible shipwreck of last October, the Italian Government has launched Mare Nostrum Operation, a military and humanitarian rescue instrument to control the migration phenomenon in the Mediterranean. The operation has clearly shown the commitment of Italy to take its responsibility in the monitoring of neighbouring waters. The Italian Navy has a fundamental role in this operation, whose mission is to guarantee the rescue of human life (Search and Rescue, SAR) to the boats in a quandary.

Mare Nostrum’s aim is to reinforce humanitarian action of Italy on the sea, not only in the SAR zone but also in the control of trafficking, environmental protection, and prevention of illegal actions, following the guidelines of European Union integrated maritime policy. This Italian initiative is a clear result of an undeniable limit of the European Union in the management of this situation. After six months, Mare Nostrum has saved more than twenty thousand people. Despite the problems, criticism and various debates, the Italian Government has decided to extend the operation with some changes in the offing of the Italian European presidency.

The emergency situation that has determined the operation is becoming more and more complicated and difficult, increasing the risk of worsening because of the fact that Italy has to cover also SAR zones of other states that can’t handle with this situation. The maritime resources and capacity building of Northern Africa countries has been considered as one of the main causes of problem. It seems that the European Union still doesn’t have in agenda any intervention neither in the “humanitarian and rescue tasks” of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (former Petersberg missions) nor with FRONTEX. Europe has not a complete and satisfactory common policy for the management of migratory flows. However, solidarity has not been improved most, and Italy has been left almost alone to cope with a great humanitarian emergency. The criticisms may be understood, but some reforms need to be taken.

The Italian Government has asked for an adequate European response and put a more efficient common management of migratory policies as a priority of the presidency semester of EU. What is needed is more solidarity in the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers and a controlled burden sharing of migratory flows. Unfortunately, this is an unheard request. In the past, the Italian Government already called on reforms, crashing with the opposition of other EU member States that, it has to be said, receive a greater number of migrants. It should be right to ask for a better role of EU and to remind the other EU member States that the management of migratory flows is a common responsibility. To stabilize crisis areas from which migrations starts should be a priority, to reinforce EU action in countries of origin and transit should be a primacy. Moreover, more resources should be employed to fight against human trafficking and criminal organisations: the two terrible “businesses” that promote illegal migration.

Despite the border in dispute is the European one, border control still remains at national level. Commissoner Malmström has made some proposals without specifying any deadline nor procedure. An effective use of EUROSUR (European External Border Surveillance Systemwould be a good support for Italy, whose objective is to strengthen the control of external borders of EU, both of land and sea, establishing a mechanism of shared operational information for the national authorities responsible of border surveillance, and to cooperate more closely with each other, with FRONTEX and with the other European and international organizations. Therefore, it is essential to protect the fundamental rights, to ensure the safety of the lives of migrants and of those who need international protection, to respect the principle of non-refoulement and to protect personal data of those seeking protection in countries of origin. In addition, the problems posed by the reception and the relevant procedures for those seeking international protection because forced to leave their country, require organizational and economic intervention, as these problems are not solved by the recent (2013) adopted rules (two directives and a regulation, called “Dublin III, in terms of international protection).

Finally, it seems that the important principle introduced by art. 80 TFEU of the Lisbon Treaty, which deals about solidarity and equitable sharing of responsibilities (also economic) between Member States, is neglected. More incisive and effective measures are required to the EU. Reception centres are stuffed in southern part of Sicily, migrants are moved in cities like Messina and Palermo, where the shelters are not even able to handle with the local emergency. Migrants are also displaced in other Italian regions like Molise, Puglia or in the North in Lombardy, where there are not organised shelters for this kind of emergency. The number of migrants is growing day by day, and the risk of not succeeding to provide them with the necessary aid and assistance is high. This is an unprecedented humanitarian emergency, and the EU can’t stand by and watch anymore without taking action.



Master’s degree in International Relations (LUISS “Guido Carli”)